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A GAME OF CHANCE 



A GAME OF CHANCE 



A NOVEL 



BY 

ELLA J. CURTIS 

(SHIRLEY SMITH) 

AUTHOR OF 
THE FAVOURITE OF FORTUNE," " ALL FOR HERSELF," " HIS LAST STAKE,' 

ETC., ETC. 



IN THREE VOLUMES 
VOL. II 



LONDON 

HURST AND BLACKETT, LIMITED 

13, GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET 

1889 

All KioJits Reserved 



PRINTED BY 

TILLOTSON AND SON, MAWDSLEY STREET 

BOLTON 






CONTENTS 



OF 



THE SECOND VOLUME 



CHAPTER 

I.— HUSBAND AND WIFE. 

II. — MISTRESS AND MAID. 

III. — JACK ERSKINE's wife 

IV. -THE FATAL MESSAGE 

V. — AT THE LYCH GATE . 

VI. — FACE TO FACE . 

VII. — TRUE OR FALSE. 

VIII. — MRS. ERSKINE FORECASTS THE FUTURE 

IX.— MISS MASHAM HAS HER SUSPICIONS 

X.— THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS 

XI. — FATHER AND DAUGHTER . 

XII. — OTWAY SAYS GOOD-BYE . 



PAGE 
I 

14 
28 

42 

54 

65 

1^ 

90 

100 

III 

123 

^2,Z 



CONTENTS OF THE SECOND VOLUME. 



CHAPTER 

XIII. — THE farmer's SON . 
XIV.-. MRS. JOHN ERSKINE's LETTER 
XV. — LOVE AND PRIDE 
XVI. - THE MEETING IX THE PORCH 
XVII. — A TERRIHLE TEMPTATION 
XVIII. — A WEEK OF PAIN 
XIX. — SAVED 
XX. — HOW IT ENDED. 
XXI. -WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS. 
XXII. - UNEXPECTED NEWS . 
XXIII.— MRS. MURRAY PICKS UP A WAIF 
XXIV. -TAKEN AT HIS WORD 
XXV. — MRS. JOHN ERSKINE COMES HOME 
XXVI. — MRS. JOHN GETS INTO RAPTURES 



143 
158 
169 
181 

210 
221 
232 
246 

258 
270 
285 
296 
308 



A GAME OF CHANCE. 



CHAPTER I . 

HUSBAND AND WIFE. 

When the excitement of the wedding was 
over, the evening promised to be unusually- 
quiet in Halkin Street. Sir John and Miss 
Lambton dined quietly together at half-past 
seven, and the meal was about half over, 
when a sharp ring at the hall door bell 
announced a late and unexpected visitor. 
Someone came in, and Miss Lambton» 
whose ears were very sharp, turned first red 
and then pale, and said, in great agitation — 
VOL. n. B 



2 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

** It Is very like Letty's voice, John. What 
can be the matter ?" 

Sir John burst out laughing. '' Letty, 
indeed," he said. 

The butler was at his elbow as he spoke, 
*' Miss Erskine — Mrs. Herbert Otway — I 
beg pardon, Sir John," he said, '' is Jn the 
library and wishes to see you." 

Sir John rose in a hurry and threw his 
dinner napkin among the dishes. '' Bless 
my soul!" he cried, "what has happened 
now f 

And In the library, sure enough, he 
found his daughter ; not calm, cold and con- 
temptuous, but in a state of the most violent 
agitation. ''Oh papa — papa!" she cried, 
clinging to him, '' I thought I should never 
get here. I have come back to you, papa. 
I cannot stay with him I It is of no use to 
ask me ; it would kill me ! Do not ask any 
questions, please, but keep me with you 
always! Do not let me be taken away !" 



HUSBAND AND WIFE. 3 

" But you must be mad, child ; completely 
out of your senses ! You marry a man of 
your own free will at twelve and run away 
from him before eight. No one ever heard 
of such a thing. What in the world came 
betw^een you ? You went away like a pair of 
turtle-doves !" 

''Oh, I don't know, I don't know! It is 
only that I dislike him so much." The girl 
sobbed as she suddenly broke down, and just 
then little Miss Lambton stole into the room, 
and stood inside the door wringing her hands. 
" Oh, my poor child ! My poor, dear child !" 
was all she could say. 

Sir John began to get angry. " I insist 
upon knowing what it means," he said, 
sternly. 

*'It has no meaning, except that I dislike 
him too much to live with him," Letty sobbed 
out. 

'* But are you aware, you foolish girl, that, 
as your husband, he can make you ?'* 



4 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Ill the middle of her sobs Letty laughed. 
"He make me ! He will beg and pray," she 
said, " but that is all he will do." 

'' But the law gives him rights," Sir John 
persisted. " You are as much his property 
as his tables and chairs. I dare not keep 
you when he comes here and insists upon 
having you." 

" Indeed," she said ; ''is that so ? Then 
if he insists, I suppose I must go ; but you 
will keep me for to - night, will you not, 
papa ? 

" Well, for to-night, of course, you must 
stay here. Oh, Louise, are you there ? Just 
see who that is knocking at the door, will 
you : 

It was the butler with a telegram. 

" This is from Otway," cried Sir John. 

It was very concise. *' Reply at once and 
say if your daughter is with you." 

'' And now I wonder what will happen 
next," said Sir John, as he took a form and 



HUSBAND AND WIFE. 5 

wrote his reply. It contained but three 
words, '' She is here." 

Two days passed and the deserted bride- 
groom made no sign. The runaway bride 
shut herself up in her own room, and saw no 
one but her aunt, who was a most consoling 
companion, for she praised and blamed ex- 
actly as she was expected to do. -With her 
father, Letty was in deep disgrace; but at the 
end of the second day he relented a little, 
chiefly because he was hurt and offended 
with Otway for having taken no steps to 
bring about a reconciliation. 

The third morning, however, brought a 
curt, but very polite note, to the effect that 
Mr. Otway would be glad to see Sir John 
Erskine on business. Letty was not even 
mentioned. 

*' He will probably want to see me, papa," 
the young lady said, indifferently, "and I 
suppose I cannot refuse. It will be very dis- 
agreeable, but of course, this kind of thing 



6 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

cannot go on. You say that, having married 
him, I must put up with him ; so If he asks 
to see me, you can send him up to the draw- 
ing-room." 

The Interview between Sir John and his 
son-in-law was short and rather stormy. The 
view taken by Otway of Letty's conduct was 
so unexpected that It left her father abso- 
lutely without a word to say In her defence ; 
and at last, glad of an excuse to let the two 
most Interested In the Issue of the affair come 
together and patch up a truce. If truce were 
possible, he told Otway that Letty was pre- 
pared for his visit and sent him upstairs. 

No greeting, even of the most formal kind, 
passed between them when he went Into the 
room. Letty's face was flushed, and she 
was trembling with excitement ; Otway was 
apparently calm, but when he saw her his 
self-control was sorely tried. 

"Your father told me you were here:," he 
said. He leaned with one hand on the table,. 



HUSBAND AND WIFE. 7 

as he stood facing her ; she was seated at a 
little distance ; the light fell upon her, and 
never had she looked prettier or more capti- 
vating in his eyes. 

*' I came — what do you suppose I came 
for .^" he said. She expected a torrent of 
reproaches, and he asked a question in a cold, 
measured voice. 

The change In his manner was too marked 
not to strike her, and she faltered out '' I — I 
do not know." * 

" You may perhaps Imagine, judging me 
by the past," he went on with a little laugh, 
'' that I came to beg — to Implore of you to 
come back to me ; perhaps you think I came 
to kneel at your feet, to entreat for your love; 
to beseech of you in your goodness to come 
to my arms and accept me as your husband. 
But do not be afraid ; the law gives me rights 
over you, as perhaps you know. I could 
compel you to live under my roof as my 
wife, but I am not going either to beg or to 



8 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

enforce. Having left me as you did, you 
evidently wish to live apart from me ; besides, 
you told me in the plainest possible language 
that you did not care for me — that you 
shrank from my touch and loathed my 
caresses. If a man does not understand 
such words he is a fool ; and, being a fool, 
I did not understand at first, but I do now, 
and we will live apart. I make no appeal 
to your pity or your forbearance — love not 
existing, I cannot appeal to it— but Letty, 
remember that you have outraged and in- 
sulted as pure and true a love as ever man 
felt for woman. No husband could love with 
more passion and devotion than I loved you — 
you cruel, heartless girl — when I put that ring 
on your finger a few days ago. A few days ! 
It seems months, years almost, since I 
stood with your hand in mine and believed 
you were mine for evermore. But now I am 
awake as if from a long sleep, in which love 
for you debased my manhood, and made me 



HUSBAND AND WIFE. 9 

a puppet and plaything In your thoughtless 
hands. Yes, I am awake now, ; my strength 
has come back to me. I have not quite 
conquered my love, for a passion like mine 
does not die In an hour, but I can leave you, 
for I despise you. I do not Insult you by 
reminding you that my honour Is In your 
hands, for It Is your honour also ; we are 
man and wife, and unless you wish to have 
the bond legally set aside, man and wife we 
must remain. I shall take no step In the 
matter, but neither shall I make any objection 
if you wish to be free." 

To say that Letty was amazed and con- 
founded at this unexpected address from the 
man who had hitherto been swayed, like a 
reed in the wind, by a glance from her eyes, 
is to give a very inadequate idea of her 
feelings at the moment. So bewildered was 
she, that she would have liked to make him 
repeat It all over again, that she might try to 
understand his meaning clearly. Was it 



lO A GAME OF CHANCE. 

really Herbert Otway who was standing 
there before her, with those stern, unloving 
eyes ? Was that his voice that addressed 
her in those cold, measured tones, and 
that uttered such contemptuous and cutting 
words ? 

She tried in vain to answer him, but not a 
word would come ; she sat with her eyes on 
the ground and a deep flush of shame and 
intense mortification burned on her face. 
And with these visible signs of perturbation, 
there was a wild storm of pride battling in 
her heart with another strange and per- 
plexing emotion, the very existence of which 
she had not suspected until that moment. 

" I am glad to see you have the grace to 
blush," he went on, mercilessly. " I have 
blushed for you many times since that evening 
at Richmond, when you left me to be the 
laughing-stock of the men and women who 
helped me to search the empty house for 
you. But since that night I have blushed 



HUSBAND AND WIFE. I I 

more for my own folly In having loved you. 
You will be glad to know, I am sure, that the 
cure of my madness has begun ; indeed, you 
showed me yourself how to begin, and for 
that I thank you. But it might be a blow to 
your vanity were I to tell you how I begin 
to rejoice in my freedom." 

After that she could bear no more. Anger 
and mortification — and with them was still 
that other feeling, as yet unnamed, which 
prompted her to fling herself at his feet to* 
implore his forgiveness — got the better of 
her ; she rose and faced him boldly. " You 
have said enough — more than enough," she 
cried, hotly, ''and I must beg to be left alone. 
Everything you say only proves that our 
marriage would be a most unhappy one, and 
that it Is better to part in time, and that — 
that — but I cannot answer you properly — 
you have been very — rude." Words failed 
her ignominiously, and she knew that tears 
were coming to complete her mortification. 



12 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

And had those tears but welled over, the 
victory would have been with her ! As it 
was, at the sight of her beautiful face, with 
that unknown look of alarm and distress 
upon it, his sternness was fast melting away. 
''But suppose," whispered pride, ''you meet 
with another rebuff; remember she does not 
love you." And how glad he was that he 
had resisted the passing weakness when, 
raising her head with an imperious gesture, 
Lettv said — 

" I am sorry to be obliged to ask you, for 
the second time, to leave me, Mr. Otway." 

"I obey your command with infinite plea- 
sure," he answered, with dignity equal to her 
own ; and backing to the door, apparently in 
order to make an effective exit, but in reality 
to see, until the very last moment, the face 
that was so lovely, and, for all his boasting, 
still so dear, he bowed low and disappeared. 

Letty remained standing where he left her 
until the sound of his footsteps died away 



HUSBAND AND WIFE. 1 3 

Upon the stairs ; then she threw up her arms 
with a despairing gesture, and broke out Into 
passionate weeping. 

And if the sound of those tempestuous 
tears had but reached the man whose bitter 
taunts had called them forth, he would have 
learned that, just as he repaid her with scorn 
for scorn, his wife's heart was won. 



CHAPTER II. 

MISTRESS AND MAID. 

A YEAR and some months subsequent to the 
marriage and Immediate separation of Mr, 
and Mrs. Herbert Otway, Mr. or, as he now 
was, Captain and Mrs. John Ersklne were at 
Simla. Young John, as he was still called, 
not at the Chase but at Little Centre Bridge, 
had been appointed, soon after the birth of 
his son, aide-de-camp to his Excellency the 
Governor-General, and this post of honour 
was a source of Infinite satisfaction to Mrs. 
Ersklne ; for In the first place, It took her 
away from the " regiment," and for one cause 
or another, known only to the women them- 
selves, she, and the wives of her husband's 



MISTRESS AND MAID. 1 5 

brother officers, did not get on too well 
together. 

It is quite possible that Mrs. Ersklne was 
too popular with men to be liked by women ; 
It Is also a fact that she gave herself ''airs'* 
— traded on her popularity In fact, and made 
enemies right and left. A fruitful source of 
gossip and scandal at once dried up at Its 
spring when the Ersklnes went to Calcutta ; 

but stray rumours of Mrs. Ersklne's triumphs 

• 

at Government House were wafted from time 
to time to the distant station she had left 
with such satisfaction, and when It was 
known that she was enjoying the delights 
of the favourite Hill Station, while many of 
those she had so often eclipsed by her beauty 
were obliged to swelter In the plains, envy 
was the dominant passion In every female 
breast, and much loud - spoken pity was 
lavished upon that '' poor deluded Captain 
Ersklne." 

But If John Ersklne had any real cause for 



1 6 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

unhapplness, he contrived to hide it from the 
world very successfully. It would not be 
absolutely true to say that marriage with 
the woman of his choice had dispelled no 
illusions, or even substituted, for the heart- 
aches of love, heartaches now and then of 
a different kind ; but, on the whole, he and 
Amy got on very well. Unlike her unknown 
sister-in-law, Letty, who had quarrelled with 
her husband on her wedding-day, for seem- 
ingly no better reason than his excessive 
fondness for her, Mrs. Erskine could not, 
she affirmed, have lived with a man who did 
not give way to her in everything, and whose 
eyes were not so blinded by love that he could 
see no faults. She held the whip and reins, 
and woe betide her steed if he shied, or 
showed the slightest desire to kick over 
the traces, or get the bit between his teeth. 
John Erskine was patient and docile to a 
fault ; and if he erred in over-indulgence to 
his beautiful wife, he had the satisfaction of 



MISTRESS AND MAID. I 7 

being envied the possession of such a lovely 
woman wherever and whenever she appeared. 

As soon as she arrived in Calcutta, and 
was seen in what might be called the train 
of the Governor-General, she laid herself out 
for conquests more brilliant than any she 
had yet achieved, and having learned by 
experience how foolish she was to make 
enemies of women, she struck out a new 
line, and did her best to captivate her own 
sex also. She succeeded fairly enough, but' 
whether her heart was not really in the 
work, or whether it is true that women 
never take very kindly to women, she was 
still the favourite of the men, and among 
the men she had, of course, her special 
favourites, although no one man could boast 
with truth that he had been singled out 
from among his fellows. 

There was one who hoped that he was 
first in favour, but Mrs. Erskine encouraged 
his visits for the simple reason that he 

VOL. II. c 



1 8 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

brought her plenty of news and gossip, and 
she was unkind enough to laugh at him 
behind his back. It was very ungrateful of 
her so to do, for he was always ready to 
fetch and carry for her, and at a ball she 
could always say she was engaged to ** Gus 
Lewin," if an objectionable partner presented 
himself. 

Being also one of his Excellency's aides, 
this good-looking, but not specially fasci- 
nating or dangerous young man, migrated to 
Simla with the rest of the Viceregal Court, 
and he was a constant visitor at the pretty 
bungalow inhabited by the Erskines. Mrs. 
Erskine could have lived in one of those 
provided for the Government officials, but 
she insisted upon a much larger and more 
comfortable residence, that stood among the 
rhododendron groves and pines which cover 
the mountain with the double summit on 
which Simla is built. 

This roomy bungalow was perhaps some- 



MISTRESS AND MAID. 1 9 

what lonely, being, in a measure, isolated 
and shut in ; but Mrs. Erskine was perfectly- 
satisfied with it. Those visitors who were 
anxious to enjoy her society thought nothing 
of the ride from the town, indeed a longer 
pilgrimage could be borne when it was 
remembered that, at the end, was that 
delicious verandah, cool and shady, with 
chairs standing about to tempt men who 
were lazy to lounge, or to teach energetic 
men, if there are any in Simla, how to be 
lazy. And the beautiful mistress, who either 
reclined in a hammock or upon a heap of 
cushions, was very charming to look upon, if 
she was not strikingly brilliant or original in 
conversation. 

She was more often to be found upon her 
cushions than in her hammock, for she had 
not quite mastered the difficulties of getting 
in and out of it gracefully ; this was a great 
disappointment to her, as she had lately read 
a well-known Indian romance, the scene of 



20 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

which Is laid In Simla, and she thought It 
would be very " fetching " if she could Imitate 
the charming heroine of the book by appear- 
ing In a hammock. 

But on a beautiful afternoon, about a month 
after the migration to Simla, the verandah 
was deserted, and Mrs. Erskine was under 
the hands of her maid. She had been for a 
ride, and she was about to change her dress 
for luncheon ; some men were coming out 
with her husband, for a polo match was to 
take place between four and five. 

'' You have not put out a dress for me, 
Rossltur," — she was always called by her 
maiden name — the lady said, when the maid 
appeared in answer to her mistress's bell. 

*' I understood you were going to the polo 
match, madam," was the answer, ''and that 
you would lunch in your habit." 

" I have changed my mind ; I am not 
going. It Is too hot." 

Rossitur's lips parted in a peculiar smile, as 



MISTRESS AND MAID. 2 1 

she turned away to take out a dress to re- 
place the habit. 

*• You can go If you Hke," Mrs. Erskine 
continued, as the maid began to brush out 
and arrange her hair. " Pottinger can take 
you. By-the-bye, how is he to-day ?" 

" He complained a good deal of his head 
last night ; but he seems quite well again to- 
day." 

" I saw little Georgy this morning," Mrs. 
Erskine went on. " Your master says h& 
wishes his boy looked as strong as yours, 
Rossitur." 

*' But mine is a month older, madam." 

'' Oh, that is nothing. Jack is a very tiny 
mite for his age ; but I am sure I cannot help 
it." 

" No, madam ; you nursed him as long as 
you could." 

'' And are you sure you do not care to go 
to the polo match, Rossitur ?" 

*' Quite sure, madam. The mail goes 



22 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

out to-morrow, and I want to write to my 
sister." 

*' And I have never written to John's people 
at the Chase. Not one line have they had 
from me since I was married. But I cannot 
write to people I never saw, can I, Rossitur ?" 

*' It must be rather difficult, madam. 
Have master's sister and her husband made 
up their quarrel ? You told me, madam, you 
remember, that they separated on their 
wedding-day." 

'' No ; she is still living at home, and I do 
not think they ever meet. How is that 
brother of yours getting on — the musician ? 
Oh ! you have but one, have you ? Well ; 
how is he ?" 

''Very well, I believe, madam. He never 
writes to me himself, but Alice, my sister, 
tells me about him." 

" And she told you, I remember, about his 
giving lessons on the organ to Lady Judith 
someone. What has become of her ?'' 



MISTRESS AND MAID. 23 

*' She was at home the whole of last 
autumn and winter, and Alice said in her 
last letter there w^as a report in the village 
that she was engaged to a very rich man." 

" And you were in hopes that she would 
marry your brother, weren't you ?" 

An angry flush rose to Rossitur's face. 

" If she liked him well enough to run after 
him," she said, "she ought to marry him. 
Alice says he thinks of nothing but her. He 
may not have a title, but he's good enough 
for any lady in England." 

Mrs. Erskine laughed. 

" You used to think yourself good enough 
for any gentleman in India, Rossitur ; and 
yet you married George Pottinger." 

"And I was a fool for my pains!" Rossitur 
broke out angrily — she was evidently not 
much in awe of her mistress. " I put a log 
round my neck I can never get rid of the 
day I went to church with him." 

" Oh, you say so now," said Mrs. Erskine ; 



24 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

" but I always thought, and I still think, you 
were a very lucky girl ; and when Captain 
Erskine settles at the Chase some day — and 
no one can tell what may happen ; Sir John 
might break his neck out hunting any day 
next winter — you and Pottinger shall have 
one of the lodges ; or you might set up an 
inn in the town." 

'' Thank you, madam," said Rossitur, and 
this time she stooped to pick up a hairpin in 
order to hide her smile. 

" Now I am ready," Mrs. Erskine said, 
*' and you may take my crewel work and 
those books out to the verandah and see if 
your master has come." 

In five minutes Rossitur came back and 
announced that Captain Erskine and three 
gentlemen were waiting for her to go in to 
lunch. 

" Who are they, Rossitur ?" 

Rossitur named the three, one after the 
other, and Mrs. Erskine, having taken a 



MISTRESS AND MAID. 25 

last survey of herself in the mirror, left the 
room to join her husband. 

'' She is expecting someone who has not 
come," Rossitur said to herself, as she set 
about to arrange the room and put away 
the various articles that were scattered about. 
" And she says I may go and see the polo. 
That looks as if she wanted to get me out of 
the way ; and yet why should she, for there 
is no more harm in having Mr. Lewin here 
to-day to gossip to her on the verandah than • 
there was in his being here yesterday ? But 
then he was not the only one yesterday ! 
And Pottinger and I can have one of the 
lodges, or set up an inn in the town ! Much 
obliged, Mrs. Erskine, I'm sure. Only for 
you and your husband I might have married 
a gentleman, and had a maid for myself. 
Yes, and I'll have one yet ! I am as hand- 
some as ever you were, my lady, and I know 
I have more brains. Who is there ? Oh, 
it's you, is it ?'' as our old acquaintance, Pot- 



26 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

tinger appeared. " What business have you 
here ?" 

** I only came to tell you," he said, '' that 
luncheon is over, and there's a fine row going 
on between my master and your mistress." 

*' Oh, you always have some story !" cried 
Rossitur, derisively. ''And half your time 
you don't know what you're saying !" 

" Don't I ? I know you're a " 

''That will do!" she interrupted, holding 
up her finger. " You will call me a liar 
once too often perhaps. What are they 
quarrelling about ?" 

" Because she will not go and see him play 
polo." 

"The best thing he can do is to stay at 
home and help her to entertain her visitor." 

" Does she expect anyone ?" 

"She did not tell me; but perhaps if one 
comes I might send a message to the 
Captain." 

"There will be murder if you do," said 



MISTRESS AND MAID. 2/ 

Pottlnger. He was standing in the half-open 
door as he spoke. 

His wife laughed. 

"Bella," he said, ''do you ever think of 
the night poor Jem Hathaway shot himself 
in the Stillingfort Woods ? Don't you try to 
make master jealous of his wife." 

Rossitur's dark eyes flashed angrily upon 
him ; but, before she could speak he heard 
Captain Erskine's voice calling to him, and 
awav he ran. 



CHAPTER III. 

JACK ERSKINE's wife. 

When Pottinger told his wife that his master 
and her mistress were quarrelling, he had 
slightly exaggerated facts, even as he knew 
them, for, in the vulgar sense of the term, 
they never quarrelled. There were not in- 
frequent scenes, and occasionally they ended 
in a fit of the sulks on the part of the wife, 
and in penitence and a costly present to 
" make peace " with, on the part of the 
husband. 

This particular afternoon Captain Erskine 
was surprised and disappointed when Amy 
appeared at luncheon not in riding dress; but 
then it was quite possible for her to put on 
her habit again before it was time to start for 



JACK ERSKINE S WIFE. 29 

the polo ground, so he said nothing. But, in 
answer to a question from one of her guests, 
she said she was not going to the match, and 
when pressed for a reason by another, she 
answered, without giving a thought to what 
she said, that her Httle boy was not very 
well. 

Ersklne, who was devoted to his child, 
took alarm at once. 

''What Is the matter with the kid .^" he 
said. '' He was all right this morning." 

Amy looked at him as much as to say, 
'' What a dear old stupid you are not to see 
that I am making an excuse," and answered, 
In her sweetest manner, *' Oh, It Is nothing of 
any consequence ; he seemed a little languid, 
that is all." 

"Languid ! But he oughtn't to be languid. 
Have you sent for anyone ? I can't go and 
play polo If the boy is not well." 

*' My dear John," said Mrs. Ersklne, 
sharply, "the boy Is perfectly well. Do 



30 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

not make such a ridiculous fuss about 
nothing." 

**Then why did you say he wasn't?" Ersklne 
muttered ; and after that he left the burden of 
conversation upon his wife and the guests. 
He knew by experience Amy's little habit of 
making false excuses serve the place of true 
ones, and to be obliged to suspect her of not 
being absolutely truthful always made him 
angry. 

He took his friends away after luncheon to 
smoke on the verandah, and then, making 
some excuse, he went back to the dining- 
room to his wife. 

" What Is this about the boy, Amy r he 
said. ''Is he 111 or well ?" 

'' Perfectly well," she answered, readily. 
** Could you not see that I had to say some- 
thing to put that man off." 

" I wish you had not said that,'' he retorted. 
" I might have known It was only an excuse. 
But why can't you come If Jack Is all right .^ 



JACK ERSKINES WIFE. 3 1 

I thought you were looking forward to the 
match." 

*' Not I, Indeed! I am sick of polo. I 
never Intended to go, although I said nothing 
about It." 

''You never intended! Come now; that is 
a stretch of imagination. Why, all last week 
you talked of nothing else !" 

" But, all the same, I never intended to 
go," she repeated. ''You must allow me to 
know what I meant to do better than you." ' 

"And what are you going to do all the 
afternoon.^" he inquired. "I suppose you 
expect a lot of fellows from town ?" 

" I expect no one. I am going to write 
letters — probably. Do you remember that 
to-morrow is mail day ?'' 

" The day after, as it happens." 

" Rossitur told me to-morrow. But no 
matter ; it is as well to be in time." 

" I wish you would write to some of my 
people at the Chase. You are always 



32 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

promising to do It, and you never do It. I 
know they think It very odd that you never 
send them a line." 

*' Well, perhaps I may be able to manage 
it this mall — If I have time. But I have to 
write to my sister In Florida. By the way, 
she said In her last letter that her brother-in- 
law, Herbert Otway, had just left them and 
gone back to England. Is there any chance 
of a reconciliation between him and your 
sister ? It must be very awkward for a girl 
to be married and yet not married, as she 
is. 

. "Yes; It is a rum business altogether; but 
you know when Fllmer wrote to me he said 
she didn't care a straw for Otway. I wish 
she hadn't married him. And so you are 
going to write this afternoon ? You will 
please yourself, I suppose, but I think you 
might come and see me play." 

"But you are not such a wonderful player, 
you know." 



JACK ERSKINE S WIFE. 33 

'* I know nothing about it. I am as good 
as your friend Lewin any day." 

"My friend Lewin, as you call him, is one 
of the best players in India." 

Erskine burst out laughing. 

'*So he says himself. He's not a bad 
hand at boasting, everyone knows." 

" I would not sneer at him, Jack, if I were 
you ; people might imagine you were jealous. 
By the way, which side does he play on this 
afternoon ?" 

*' You know perfectly well he doesn't play 
at all. Hasn't he had his arm in a sling for a 
week past ?" 

" Oh ; so he has. I forgot." 

" And it was only yesterday you were 
tying it up shorter for him ! You thought I 
didn't see the performance, I suppose. 
Beast ! I wish he was dead !" 

"Dear me; how ferocious we are to-day! 
But you need not be jealous of poor Gus 
Lewin. When he comes to see me he either 

VOL. II. D 



34 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

reads poetry or recites it. It Is all the same 
to me, for I always go to sleep. I assure 
you he is not an atom more interesting than 

you are yourself. If it were Victor de 

Good gracious, Jack, what is the matter ? 
Why mayn't I speak of poor Victor ?'' 
*' Because I hate him." 
" And I do not. What a rage you always 
get into if I only mention his name ! Surely 
you ought to be satisfied when you know I 
refused him and married you." 

" He had better not show his face here." 
** How can he show his face when he is 
hundreds of miles away ? I am sure I don't 
want to see the poor fellow, if his coming is 
to rub you up the wrong way. I wish you 
would contrive to keep your temper. Some- 
times I think you are as mad as Pottinger. 
Rossitur tells me he was very bad last 
night." 

** Any man would be bad with such a " 

'* Hush ! She is nothing of the kind ; but 



JACK ERSKINES WIFE. 35 

if that man breaks out some day and murders 
us all in our beds, perhaps you will be con- 
vinced." 

'* If he would begin with Rossitur I 
shouldn't mind. I hate that woman more 
and more every day." 

'' She is probably at work in the next room 
and listening to your compliments." 

'' I do not care if she was in this room ; and 
I'll be bound she's listening wherever she is. 
I hate her, and I believe she will do us some 
harm before she stops." * 

'' What can she do ? Really, Jack, you get 
more silly every day ! Isn't it time you were 
going to your polo ?" 

'' I have a great mind not to go at all." 

" Then stay by all means ; but, if you 
stay, I go ; so please make up your mind 
quickly." 

'' Oh ! I am going ; do not be afraid. I 
should not like to interfere with your little 
arrangements." 



36 A GAME OF CHANCE. 



And he went to the door. 

''Good-bye," she said, pleasantly. "Come 
back In a better temper." 

" Perhaps I shall not come back at all. 
Men have been killed playing polo before 
to-day !" 

"Oh, yes, you will !" she answered, smiling 
at him. " Naught was never in danger, you 
know. There now. Don't frown like that. 
Can you not take a joke ?" 

** Yes ; when it's meant!" he muttered. 

Then he opened the door and called 
''Pottinger! Pottinger !" and, leaving his 
wife, Pottinger ran to his master. 

An hour later, when It might be presumed 
that the polo match was In full swing — for 
the ground was not more than a quarter-of- 
an-hour's ride from the bungalow — Mrs. 
Ersklne was seated on a low chair in the 
verandah ; there was a piece of fancy work 
on her lap, and some books were scattered 
about within reach of her hand ; but her eyes 



JACK ERSKINES WIFE. 2)7 

were closed, and she looked the picture of 
indolence. 

Beside her was a man a year or two 
older than her husband ; not bad looking, 
but somewhat heavy in feature, and by no 
means animated in expression. He was 
stretched out at his ease in a lounging chair, 
his left arm rested in a sling, and there was 
an open book turned face downwards on 
his knee. It was Captain Le win's highest 
ambition to pose as a literary character ; his 
pretentions were based upon a solitary con- 
tribution to Punch, sent in when he was a 
lad of eighteen, and inserted, much to his 
surprise ! His friends declared that he had 
never written anything but an advertisement 
to the "Agony Column" of the Times, but 
that was not true. He was the proud author 
of an epigram In Punch. 

Just to amuse herself, Mrs. Erskine had 
pretended to foster his ambition, and the 
result was, that when they were alone, he, 



38 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

instead of carrying on a flirtation, as was 
suspected by Captain Erskine, used to read 
aloud if the lady were Inclined to listen. But 
she was not always In the mood ; so, unless 
she happened to be either pre-occupled or 
too lazy to talk, he did not venture to do 
more than produce a volume, and on more 
than one occasion he had been known to 
read her to sleep. 

She was not in a talking mood this after- 
noon, so the book was brought out and the 
reading began ; but It had not gone on very 
long when she felt herself getting drowsy, 
and if she had not roused herself by a great 
effort she would have been fast asleep. 

'* It would be so much nicer if you would 
talk, Gus," she said. All his lady friends 
called Captain Lewin "Gus." "I have not 
heard one word of that book for the last ten 
minutes. Surely there must be some news. 
Is anyone going to run away with anyone ? 
I thought it was the correct thing for people 



JACK ERSKINE S WIFE. 39 

to elope when they came to the Hills ; 
Captain Erskine never tells me any scandal, 
so I have to look to my friends." 

*' Nothing interesting has happened as yet; 
everyone says it will be an exceptionally 
proper dull season. There is only one 
grass-widow in the place, and she is forty- 
five and very ugly." 

" Oh, dear ! what are we to do to get up a 
little excitement ? Are there no new people 
for one to go and see ?" * 

" There are no new women, but there is a 
new man ! An old friend of yours, too, some- 
one said. That handsome Frenchman who 
used to be in Calcutta — what is his name ? — 
do you remember ?" 

He was not looking at his companion or 
he must have noticed the strange pallor that 
suddenly overspread her face ; she caught up 
her fan, and began to use it vigorously. 

" I remember him," she said, presently, 
and in her own ears her voice had a strange 



40 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

note in It. "Captain Erskine and I were 
talking of him after luncheon to-day. Does 
he make any stay in Simla ?" 

" Oh ; I don't know the man at all, so I 
can't tell you ; but you are sure to see 
him." 

Mrs. Erskine made no reply ; her eyes 
were fixed upon the short road that led from 
the house to the entrance gate. A man, who 
had just dismounted and given up his horse 
to a groom, was approaching slowly, and, a 
moment or two after he came in sight, she 
rose hurriedly, and remained standing until 
he reached the verandah. 

He was young, of slender, graceful build ; 
and when he took off his hat he showed a 
closely-cropped head of dark hair ; pale, 
olive complexion, and singularly beautiful 
soft, dark eyes. There was in them now 
an indescribable expression as he came for- 
ward and took Mrs. Erskine's outstretched 
hand. 



JACK ERSKINE S WIFE. 4I 

** I heard just this moment that you were 
in Simla," she said. "Captain Lewin, allow 
me to introduce Monsieur Victor de Lou vain." 



CHAPTER IV. 

THE FATAL MESSAGE. 

It might have been half-an-hour after the 
arrival of the second visitor, that Rossitur, 
coming suddenly into the drawing-room — it 
opened into that part of the verandah always 
occupied by Mrs. Erskine — found Captain 
Lewin fast asleep on a couch. She was 
so surprised to see him that she started 
violently and made a faint exclamation. It 
was quickly checked, however, for Rossitur 
never betrayed herself unnecessarily ; and 
her object jn entering the room at that 
moment was simply to spy upon her mistress, 
and to hear, if possible, what she and her 
visitor had to say to one another. Hence 



THE FATAL MESSAGE.. 43 

her astonishment when she found him asleep 
on the sofa. 

"He never did that before when he was 
here alone," the maid said, as she stole softly 
to the open window and looked out. 

Mrs. Ersklne, not half-asleep now, was 
leaning back in her favourite chair, and on a 
heap of cushions beside her sat the second 
visitor, who was Immediately recognised by 
Rossltur. The pair were engaged in earnest 
conversation, but the man was the principal 
speaker. Amy Ersklne was looking bril- 
liantly handsome ; her cheeks were slightly 
flushed, and the long lashes that rested on 
her cheeks — her eyes were cast down — 
seemed darker even than usual in contrast to 
the soft masses of her flaxen hair. 

Her companion's eager talk was nothing 
but a short history of his life since he and 
Mrs. Ersklne had parted before her marriage; 
there was not a word spoken by him to 
intimate that she had been more to him than 



44 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

a pleasant acquaintance ; but, In the hearts 
of both at the moment there were sleeping 
memories of by-gone happy days, and to stir 
them into life would have been an unwise 
•enterprise for either. But there was no 
•danger. Victor de Louvain was, in every 
sense of the word, a man of honour. 

But Bella Rossitur was a woman to whom 
the word had no meaning ; she knew, no one 
better, how strong had been the attachment 
between the two who were now talking 
together so quietly, and, being base herself, 
she was ready to attribute baseness to others. 
Here was an opportunity to make mischief, 
or, failing that, to make her master unhappy. 
There was no love lost between Rossitur and 
Captain Erskine, and it would give her in- 
finite satisfaction to do him some real injury ; 
or, failing that, to make him suspicious and 
miserable in his domestic relations. He was 
but too well inclined to be jealous of his 
beautiful wife, and he could not be ignorant 



THE FATAL MESSAGE. 45 

of the fact that an engagement of some kind 
had at one time existed between her and 
Monsieur de Louvaln. 

But how was the seed to be sown that was 
to bear bitter fruit ? If she could in any way 
convey a message to Captain Erskine to the 
effect that the Frenchman had arrived at the 
bungalow in his absence, the thing would be 
done. And to send a written message to the 
polo ground would be the easiest thing in the 
world. There were always three or four idle 
grooms about, and she could scribble a few 
lines and send them off forthwith ; there was 
not the slightest fear that her master would 
betray her to his wife, and her mistress would 
never suspect her. 

As she was moving rapidly away from the 
window the skirt of her dress overturned a 
light chair, and, at the noise made by Its fall,. 
Mrs. Erskine started and looked round. 

*' Is that you, Rossitur .'^" she said. 

**Yes, madam," the maid replied at once. 



46 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

" I came In to see if you wanted anything ; I 
did not know you were engaged." 

Begging her companion to excuse her for 
a moment, Mrs. Ersklne went Into the room, 
and, drawing Rossltur away towards the door, 
she asked in a low, eager voice if she had 
seen the gentleman on the verandah. 

Rossltur answered briefly In the affirmative. 

** Then I want you. If you please," Mrs. 
Ersklne continued, '' not to mention to 
Captain Ersklne that he was here to-day ; 
he Is In Simla for a very short visit, and I do 
not want your master to know that he came 
to see me. You understand ?" 

*' Perfectly," Rossltur answered. 

*' Of course, there is no harm In his coming 
to see me; but Captain Ersklne Is so peculiar, 
and dislikes French people so much, that It 
Is as well not to vex him for nothing. I 
know I can depend upon you, Rossltur." 

''You can, madam." 

'' Monsieur de Louvain asked If you were 



THE FATAL MESSAGE. 47 

Still with me, and wanted to know if you 
were as handsome as ever. You might 
bring us some coffee presently, and then he 
can see for himself." 

" And shall I wake Captain Lewin, 
madam ?" Rossitur asked, with a glance at 
the sofa." 

" Oh, yes ; wake him of course ; but it 
doesn't matter ; he is sure to wake up 
presently." 

But before Rossitur brought the coffee and 
was complimented by de Louvain on her 
appearance, she despatched a tiny note to 
the polo ground, with directions that it was 
to be delivered into Captain Erskine's own 
hands. It contained these words — 

*' If you come back at once, you will find 
that your wife remained at home this after- 
noon to receive Monsieur Victor de Louvain." 

The third and concluding game of the polo 
match was about to begin when Rossitur's 
messenger rode up and presented his master 



48 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

with the note. Erskine, thinking it was of 
no moment — a message from Amy perhaps 
to tell him to bring someone back to dinner — 
held it unopened, while he eagerly discussed 
the games that had already been lost and 
won. He had mounted a fresh pony, and it 
was already wild with excitement to be off; 
but, reining it in tightly, he finished what he 
had to say about the play, and then opened 
the note and read its brief contents. 

Those who were grouped about him 
remembered afterwards that he turned 
deadly white, a sure sign with him of 
anger and excitement ; then he replaced 
the note in the envelope, crumpled both 
up in his hand, and jumped to the ground, 
calling out, '* Someone must take my place. 
I can't play ; I am wanted at home." 

A dozen voices cried out that he must 
finish the match. 

** Is anyone ill, old fellow ?" one man 
said. 



THE FATAL MESSAGE. 49 

" Is it the kid or Mrs. Erskine ?" cried 
another. 

" No ; there is no one ill — nothing the 
matter," he answered ; '' but I want to be 
off — there is someone I want to see." Then, 
after hesitating a moment, he sprang upon 
his pony again, calling out, *' I'm ready ! 
Come on, all of you !" and muttering to 
himself, " An hour hence will do as well 
for him," he threw himself headlong into^ 
the game. 

But more than one of those present 
suspected that something had happened to 
put him out ; always a bold and dashing 
player, he was now reckless in the extreme. 
He was now here and now there — the ball 
seemed to fly under his dashing strokes, and 
an ignorant spectator might have been 
pardoned if he had thought that a fight was 
going forward instead of a game. 

At last, when the pursuit was hottest, there 
was a sudden cry indicative of dismay and 
VOL. n. E 



50 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

alarm ! In a moment every player had flung 
aside his club, and they were seen hastening, 
one and all, towards a spot in the centre of 
the ground. A pony was galloping wildly 
about the field, but its rider, young John 
Erskine, would never mount it again ! When 
his comrades in the game came up he was 
already dead. A sudden stumble of the 
pony — it was going at full speed — had 
pitched him clean over its head; his neck was 
broken and he died instantaneously. 

Several of his friends were on their knees 
beside him, and one was trying to pour some 
brandy through his clenched teeth, when an 
excited figure broke through the group, and 
Pottinger, Erskine's faithful soldier servant, 
flung himself beside the body. He seemed 
almost beside himself with grief, as, forcing 
open the mouth with a wrench the others 
had not dared to use, he seized the flask 
and poured the contents down the throat that 
would never taste food or drink again. 



THE FATAL MESSAGE. 5 I 

Then they all watched for some sign of 
life ; but the handsome young face seemed to 
grow more white and rigid as they gazed ; and 
at last, one of those nearest put out his hand 
and gently closed the fast glazing eyes. 

'' Poor Jack !" he said. " He played like a 
madman ! I am afraid he had some bad 
news in that note someone brought him." 

*' Here it is in his glove," said another, 
drawing it out. • . 

The note was doubled together in its en- 
velope, and, having flattened it out, the man 
who found it handed it over to Pottinger. 

'' Is that Mrs. Erskine's writing ?" he 
asked. 

Pottinger hesitated a moment, and then 
answered, shortly, 

" Yes." 

*'Then she has the best right to it," said 
the other. '' Its contents are sacred to us. 
Take it, my man, and give it to her as it is." 

Pottinger touched his cap, and slipped 

UNIVERSITY OF lUlMO^Sr 



. _ ^ n t^\l 



52 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

the note Into his pocket. But, although 
his action was quiet now, and his manner 
respectful, they all noticed that his excite- 
ment was only subdued, not conquered, as he 
stood by and listened while they consulted 
together as to the best means of breaking the 
awful news to the widow. There was not a 
man among them who did not shrink from 
the office, and when Pottinger said at last, 
'* She knows me best, gentlemen ; let me do 
it," they sent him. 

Mrs. Erskine was seated at the piano, 
playing while Victor de Louvain sang. 
Captain Lewin, still on the sofa, but awake 
now and drinking coffee, listened. The 
Frenchman sang with taste and feeling, and 
Amy forgot, in the pleasure of the moment, 
that the polo match was probably over, and 
that Jack might appear suddenly and find her 
with Louvain. But the chiming of a little 
clock in the room reminded her of the late- 
ness of the hour ; and rising abruptly from 



THE FATAL MESSAGE. 53 

the piano, she was about, with some pretty 
excuse, to dismiss both her visitors, when the 
sound of a violent altercation, apparently on 
the lawn just outside the verandah, arrested 
her attention and that of her companions 
also. 

'*Are you mad?" It was Rossltur who 
spoke. ''I will not let you go! You will 
kill her ! You know you will !" 

Lewin rushed out. Amy, white and trem^ 
bllng, clung to Louvaln's arm. 

" It Is something about my husband!" she 
said. 



CHAPTER V. 

AT THE LYCH GATE. 

Some two or three weeks, perhaps, before 
the sudden and tragic death of young John 
Erskine at Simla, the village of Stillingfort, 
in Stoneshire, was en fete to celebrate the 
return of Lord and Lady Stillingfort and 
their daughter from a lengthened absence 
abroad. Her ladyship's health, it was said, 
obliged them to leave England the preceding 
winter, and they went away directly at the 
close of the season, without coming to 
Stillingfort Park even for a few months in 
the early autumn. 

A short stay was made in London upon 
the return of the family from the South of 
France ; and when it was announced that they 



AT THE LYCH GATE. 55 

were expected home, a rumour reached 
the village In advance of the engagement of 
the Earl's only daughter, Lady Judith, to an 
enormously rich and childless widower nearly 
double her age. He was a commoner, whose 
father had made his colossal fortune In trade ; 
neither envy nor calumny could find one' word 
to say against him, but he would not have 
been accepted by the proud Earl and Countess 
of Stilllngfort for their daughter were It no]: 
for the princely settlement he proposed to 
make upon her. 

The news of the engagement was widely 
circulated In the village, and created an 
unusual amount of excitement ; for the attach- 
ment of the beautiful Lady Judith to Charles 
Rossltur, the farmer's son and organist of 
the parish church, was a sort of open secret 
In the neighbourhood. It was whispered 
how, last year when she was at home, she 
used, three or four times a week, to go to the 
church when she knew he would be found In 



56 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

the organ loft pouring out his soul in music 
at his beloved instrument. But whether the 
maiden of high degree and the poor musician, 
whose handsome face and noble form had 
attracted her notice, met as mere acquain- 
tances who were interested in music, or as 
lovers interested solely In themselves, no one 
knew. The poor old fellow who so patiently 
blew for hours while Rossitur played, was 
both blind and deaf, and if he had any sus- 
picions as to the nature of the interruptions 
that so often put an end to the organist's 
daily practice, he never spoke of them to 
anyone. He was one of Lady Judith's 
favourite pensioners, and she was very kind 
to him. 

Early in the afternoon of the day the 
Stillingforts were expected home, Charles 
Rossitur and his sister Alice were walking 
together not fifty yards from the spot where 
their sister Bella stood with Pottlnger when 
poor Jem Hathaway, her hoodwinked lover, 



AT THE LYCH GATE. 57 

shot himself. Alice was in every way a 
remarkable contrast to her handsome sister 
and brother. She was a short, spare little 
woman, with scanty dark hair, and a sallow, 
sickly complexion, and in her eyes alone 
was any resemblance to be found to the 
handsome race from which she sprang. She 
was not specially amiable in mind or manner, 
and she had the reputation of being able, 
on occasion, to use a shrewish tongue with- 
good effect. 

If she loved any creature upon earth with a 
strong, unselfish love, it was her only brother, 
and, from the first, she had seen his wild 
infatuation for Lady Judith Forster with 
sorrow and dismay. No good, she knew, 
could ever come of such a love, and more- 
over, she did not believe in the sincerity of 
the high-born beauty. It was an immense 
relief to her when the family went abroad for 
an indefinite time, for she hoped her brother 
would shake off the glamour of Lady Judith's 



58 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

beauty, when he was no longer under Its 
constant influence, and make up his mind 
that he could never win her for his wife. 
Before she had bewitched him the young 
man had been well inclined to a modest girl 
in his own station, and Alice looked back 
with infinite regret to the time he had walked 
in that very wood with herself and Ellen 
Balfour, the village schoolmistress, whose 
naturally beautiful voice had improved so 
much under his training that she had several 
times appeared at the local concerts. 

Now, as far as Alice knew, he never spoke 
to her except in the most formal manner, and 
it was scarcely to be expected that the man 
who gave lessons to Lady Judith Foster, and 
sang his own songs in fine houses in London, 
would trouble himself about the insignificant 
person who taught the village children to 
read. As the brother and sister walked up 
and down the pretty woodland path, they 
naturally talked of what was uppermost in 



AT THE LVCII GATE. 59 

their minds — the home-coming of the family 
to the Park and the rumoured engagement 
of Lady Judith. 

** If it were announced In fifty newspapers 
It is not true," Charles Rossitur said, doggedly. 
"You may think I am boasting, Alice, if you 
like, but she loves me and she will be true to 
me in spite of everyone. Do you suppose I 
don't know ?" 

*' I never said she did not love you, dear,"^» 
the girl answered, in the slow quiet manner 
peculiar to her, ''but I say again, as I said to 
you many times before, that she will never 
marry you. Her pride is far greater than her 
love, and, besides. It Is not as If she was rich. 
She Is a lord's daughter, but she has no 
fortune, you know ; and what have you to 
offer her In comparison to this Mr. Mllbanke? 
He has about half-a-mlllion a year, they say." 

"And what Is he with his half-million ? A 
man nearly old enough to be her father." 

" Age Is nothing with such a fortune ; you 



6o A GAME OF CHANCE. 

haven't a farthing but your salary as organist 
of the church, and what you make now and 
then by writing a song. There Is the farm, 
to be sure, when father dies ; but do you 
suppose his lordship would let you keep 
that If you married his daughter against his 
wish ?" 

" I can always sell my Interest In It." 

"And live on that !" cried Alice, scornfully. 
"" Why, your yearly Income would not keep 
your fine lady wife In gloves " 

''You do not know her noble heart," 
interrupted Rossitur, Impetuously. "If I 
cannot get on in this country she will come 
with me to America or Australia, and we can 
face the world together." 

" My poor brother !" said Alice. " What 
will become of you when your dream Is 
broken up ? Oh ! If I could persuade you 
that you are deceiving yourself about this 
girl, and that she " 

"Listen tome," Rossitur interrupted again, 



AT THE LVCH GATE. 6 1 

and stopping suddenly he put his hand on 
his sister's shoulder and looked into her 
face. "You ask what will become of me if 
Judith Forster plays me false. The bare 
idea of It turns my brain ; so, if It happens, 
remember that whatever I do will be the 
act of a madman. May God help me, for 
I cannot answer for myself!" 

" Oh, my brother !" and Alice, the cold, 
undemonstrative Alice, flung herself weeping 
on his breast. *' I wish you had never seen 
her beautiful, false face. Forget her, dear. 
Do not let your life be blighted by this love. 
You are handsome and clever ; there is not 
one of her fine friends, with their money and 
their titles, to be compared to you. Perhaps 
if she did not know you, or if her people did 
not know you, she might marry you ; but 
look at me, with my hands all red and rough 
from common work at home. Look at our 
father ; he can just make a shift to read and 
write — there was little schooling when he 



62 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

was young, and Bella, our sister, Is a soldier's 
wife." 

'• It Is of no use to talk In that way," the 
young man answered. ''Judith loves me, 
and she Is more to me than my life. And I 
shall see her presently," he added, his face 
flushing with rapture at the thought. ** She 
will come to the church this evening if she 
can, I know she will ; and if not to-day, then 
to-morrow. I shall see her. My beauty ! 
my queen ! Do not look so solemn, Alice. 
Treat me as a madman if you like, but you 
must laugh over my folly until we see who 
wins — the organist or the millionaire." 

"I do not feel as if I should ever laugh 
again," she said. 

" Nonsense, girl ! Come along with me to 
the church gate and let us see the carriage go 
past from the station. The train is due In 
half -an -hour, and It will take us twenty 
minutes to walk down." 

But Alice would not go. 



AT THE LYCH GATE. 63 

'' I do not want to see her," she said ; 
"'and the less she sees of your relations the 
better for you." 

And if he had thought about making a 
good impression, Charles Rossitur could 
scarcely have been more picturesquely posed 
than he chanced to be when Lady Judith's 
eager, restless eyes caught sight of him, 
as, seated beside her mother in the open 
barouche, she dashed past the old church on 
her way from the station. He was leaning 
against the quaint old lych gate, and the 
dark back-ground might have been chosen 
by an artist, who wished to set off to ad- 
vantage the handsome face with the dark, 
passionate eyes and the fair brown hair. 

For one moment his glance met that of 
Lady Judith as he bared his head to salute 
the occupants of the carriage ; to two of 
whom, it must be confessed, he was at that 
moment the must unwelcome sight in the 
world. Lord Stillingfort frowned, his wife 



64 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

looked at the young man without making the 
sHghtest sign of recognition, and Lady Judith, 
as she slightly bent her head, lowered her 
parasol to hide the burning blush that 
mounted to her face. 

After many months of absence she saw him 
again ; and on her finger at that moment was 
the almost priceless diamond ring, the pledge 
of her engagement to Mr. Mllbanke. 

She had now to choose between the two ; 
and that evening Charles Rossltur's organ 
practice was not Interrupted. 



CHAPTER VI. 

FACE TO FACE. 

And Lady Judith knew well enough that her 
young lover was waiting and watching and 
hoping for her coming, but she was not bold 
enough to run the risk of going to meet him 
on the very evening of her return. The sus- 
picions of her father and her mother, which 
had been aroused before they left Stillingfort, 
would have been on the alert at once if she 
had gone out alone within an hour or two of 
her arrival at home ; and neither could she 
venture to send Charles Rossitur a note ; 
she had not a messenger whom she could 
trust. 

Alice asked her brother no questions when 
he came home, looking sadly disappointed 

VOL. II. F 



66 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

and in miserable spirits, from his evening 
practice at the church. ''He was a fool to 
expect her," the girl said to herself 

The next morning the young man, after a 
sleepless night, was up and out wandering 
alone in the woods soon after daylight. It 
occurred to him that Lady Judith, on the 
chance of a meeting, might also come out 
for an early ramble ; but not a soul was to 
be seen except a woodman going to his 
work or a gamekeeper returning from his 
rounds. 

Rossitur was excited, jealous, and wild with 
the desire that possessed him to meet Judith 
face to face, and hear from her own lips that 
the report of her engagement was untrue ; 
and wild also with his ardent longing to clasp 
her in his arms after their long separation, 
broken once only by a precious letter she had 
sent him early In the year. But she had 
desired him on no account to answer It, and 
he had obeyed. Night and day since he 



FACE TO FACE. 67 

received it, that letter had been his constant 
companion, and he took it out now and read 
it again as he walked up and down the wood- 
land path, hoping at each turn to see her 
•coming towards him. 

Before he went home to the early break- 
fast at the farm he had taken a mighty 
resolve. He would go that very day to 
Lord Stillingfort and ask him for his 
daughter. It was the most honourable 
and manly course to pursue, and if he 
refused, as was but too probable, to listen 
to the prayer of the poor and humble 
suitor, Rossitur would consider himself free 
to marry Lady Judith, if she loved him well 
enough to brave poverty and estrangement 
from her family and friends for his sake. 

And, judging her by himself, he had no 
fear. Had he been a peer's son and she the 
farmer's daughter, he knew the difference in 
rank would not keep him from her; but it did 
not occur to him that the husband raises the 



68 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

wife to his own social level, or pulls her 
down as the case may be. 

When breakfast was over he told Alice that 
he might not be home In time for the early 
family dinner, as, after the choir practice, he 
was going to the Park to see Lord Stllllng- 
fort on business. 

*' Oh, Indeed !" she said ; '' and you expect 
to be asked to luncheon, I suppose." 

It was Impossible to tell by her manner 
whether she spoke satirically or In earnest. 

** I expect a great deal, I admit," he 
answered, with a smile, ''but I do not know- 
that I thought about luncheon. However, if 
I come home hungry, you will give me some 
food?" 

He kissed her and went out, and she stood 
for some time looking after him with tears in 
her eyes. 

** It Is madness !" she said to herself, 
** downright madness! If she would tell 
him herself that she is going to marry this 



FACE TO FACE. 69 

rich man, he would be cured ; but she will 
keep him on and play with him until she 
breaks his heart." 

It was still very early, not more than one 
o'clock, when Rossitur rang the great bell 
and asked the powdered and supercilious 
flunkev who answered it, and who knew 
him well by sight, if Lord Stillingfort was 
at home. He was shown into the library, 
and then, the footman, having announced tfae 
early visitor to his master, went back to the 
servants' hall and told his companions that 
'* that 'ere horganist chap had called to see 
his lordship, and it was a wonder he 'ad n't 
come in the middle of the night." 

Rossitur had to wait with w^hat patience 
he could muster for nearly a quarter-of-an- 
hour before Lord Stillingfort appeared ; the 
fact was, that when he heard who was wait- 
ing for him he went off in a great hurry to 
his wife to beg of her to be present at the 
interview, but she refused. *' I daresav he 



70 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

wants money for the organ," she said. " Just 
give him a cheque and send him away as- 
soon as possible." 

**And suppose it is something about 

Judith r 

At that Lady StilHngfort laughed. " If it 
is," she said, ''you can order him out of the 
house. But I do not suppose he has lost his 
senses, although he fancies himself in love 
with her." Then as her husband was leaving 
the room, she called him back and added, 
" If he says anything about Judith, just send 
for her and make her tell him before your face 
that she is going to marry Mr. Milbanke. 
How unfortunate that he had to go to 
America just now. If he were but here we 
might have the marriage directly." 

Lord StilHngfort met his unwelcome visitor 
with polite urbanity ; but he contrived also to 
make his greeting formal in the extreme. 

"Good morning, Mr. — ah — yes — Rossitur, 
to be sure, the organist. I did not quite 



FACE TO FACE. 7 1 

catch the name from Thomas. May I ask 
you to state your business as briefly as 
possible, as I am very busy this morning ? 
After my long absence I have a great deal 
to look into. What can I do for you ?" 

He did not sit down or ask his visitor to 
be seated ; so the young man stood, and he 
looked like a young giant beside the spare 
little man who stared at him so coldly through 
his gold-nmmQd pmce-nez. • 

" Lord Stillingfort," Rossitur began, and 
it must be confessed that the hopes which had 
buoyed him during his walk to the Park had 
all died away, " it is now nearly two years 
since I had the honour of giving your 
daughter, Lady Judith, some lessons on the 
organ, and I — since that time, I mean — that 

is 1 

** Oh ; you mean, I suppose, the lessons 
were never paid for," interrupted Lord Stil- 
lingfort, brusquely. " Really, that was very 
remiss ; but why didn't you send in your bill ? 



72 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Then it would have been settled with the 
other accounts. What is the amount, and 
I'll write you a cheque at once !" 

Rossitur s face grew scarlet. '* Pardon me, 
my lord," he said. "It was an understood 
thing when I gave Lady Judith lessons that 
they were not to be paid for, and I am sorry 
you think I came here for money. My 
object is something very different. I came," 
and he raised his handsome head proudly, 
and looked Lord Stillingfort straight in the 
face, " I came to tell you that I love your 
daughter, and to ask your consent to our 
marriage." 

Lord Stillingfort adjusted his pince-nez and 
stared in his turn at his audacious visitor. 

" You love my daughter, and you ask my 
consent to your marriage with her !" he 
repeated. " Upon my word, young man, I 
must do you the justice to say that you 
are very frank, and apparently not much 
troubled by any doubts as to the success of 



FACE TO FACE. "] -}) 

your suit. When you talk of my consent 
you Imply that you have already obtained 
that of Lady Judith. May I ask If this Is 
SO r 

'' I have every reason to hope that If your 
consent were obtained Lady Judith would 
become my wife." 

*' Do you know what, sir?" his lordship 
broke In with a dry chuckle — he was too 
angry to laugh — "It would serve you right 
and teach you a timely lesson. If I were to 
ring the bell and order my servants to turn 
you out of the house ! Have you forgotten, 
sir," and his voice rose angrily, "who and 
what you are ? What right have you to 
come and ask for my daughter ? How dare 
you so much as think of her ? What Is your 
position ? What are your means ? Your 
father Is a tenant farmer on my estate, one 
of your sisters Is In service, and you hold the 
not very lucrative post of organist of the 
parish church ! I have no wish to be unduly 



74 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

hard upon you, but your proposal is simply 
impertinent. And now, perhaps, the sooner 
you go the better," he added after a moment's 
pause, "and I must — " 

" I cannot be dismissed in this way, my 
lord," broke in Rossitur, passionately. *' I 
may not be the equal of your daughter in 
rank ; but, although we are only tenant 
farmers, the Rossiturs are every whit as old 
a family as your own. For myself, I can say 
that the one talent I possess has already 
brought me some social distinction, and at 
the present day people do not ask questions 
about an artist's birth. I am not very rich^ 
it is true, but I love your daughter, and I am 
willing to work for her with all the power 
of mind and body I possess. Cheered and 
encouraged by her love, I believe I can 
achieve greatness, and I am proud and 
happy to know that her love is mine." 

Lord Stillingfort at these bold words fairly 
lost his temper, and in his passion he flung 



FACE TO FACE. 75 

the papers that were strewn upon the Hbrary 
table about, and all but overturned an ink- 
stand. 

"Your Insolence passes all bounds, sir," 
he almost shouted. '' Perhaps you are not 
aware that Lady Judith is engaged to be 
married, and that the husband she has chosen 
is one of whom we cordially approve." 

" I heard a report of Lady Judith's engage- 
ment to a Mr. Milbanke," Rossitur replied,. 
" but I do not believe it." 

" Perhaps you do not believe me^' Lord 
Stillingfort cried. "Very well." He rang 
the bell. " Tell Lady Judith to come to me 
at once," he said to the footman who answered 
it ; and not another word was spoken until the 
door opened and Lady Judith came hurriedly 
in. 

When she saw who was in the room she 
stopped short ; the colour rushed to her face 
and then as quickly left it again. 

" You sent for me, papa," she said. And 



76 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

then she stood like a statue, with her eyes 
bent on the ground, and the man whose heart 
was breaking for a word or look from her, 
feasted his eyes for a few blissful moments 
upon her matchless beauty. 

''Judith," said her father, ''this young man, 
Rossitur, says he has heard a report that you 
are engaged to be married to Mr. Milbanke, 
and he does not believe it even when con- 
firmed by me. Will you be kind enough to 
tell him whether it is true or not ?" 

Lady Judith gave one rapid glance at 
Rossitur ; then her eyes fell again, and she 
was silent. 

"Speak! I insist upon it!" cried her father. 
" Is it true or false that you wear his ring on 
this finger," and he took her left hand and 
held it up, "and that you have promised to 
marry him ?" 

'' It is true," she answered, so low that 
Rossitur barely caught the words. Then 
she turned and rushed from the room. 



FACE TO FACE. "J^ 

" I hope you are satisfied," said Lord 
Stillingfort. 

But the young man's pale and quivering 
lips could frame no reply. 



CHAPTER VII. 

TRUE OR FALSE. 

When he left the house, dumb with bitter 
disappointment, and his wounded pride sting- 
ing him sore, Rossitur struck across the Park 
towards the woods, intending to make his 
way back to the farm circultously. The 
whole thing had been so sudden that he 
was bewildered and totally unable to realise 
that, from Judith's own lips, he had received 
the deathblow to all his hopes. There was 
the hateful ring glittering on her finger ; 
what better evidence could he have of her 
perfidy, even if her own faltering admission 
of the truth had not been confirmed by her 
father's words ? 

He walked on in a stupid, blundering kind 



TRUE OR FALSE. 79 

of way until he reached a little glade, so shut 
in and lonely that he knew he should be free 
from observation ; and there, flinging himself 
face downwards on the turf, he gave vent to 
his passionate grief How long he lay there 
he never knew ; It might have been for hours 
or only minutes, for In his abandonment he 
was quite lost to the passage of time. But at 
length he heard a light, quick step approach- 
ing, and presently someone knelt beside him 
and a soft hand was passed over his hair. 

'' Look up ! Speak to me — to Judith," 
whispered the low, musical voice that had 
been so hard and constrained when last he 
heard it ; and instantly he sprang to his feet, 
and she was by his side with her hands 
clasped round his arm. 

"Why did you say it?" he cried. '' Did 
you want to drive me mad ? You told me 
the truth just now, I suppose, and I do not 
want to hear it again. Take away your 
hands. I cannot answer for myself while 



So A GAME OF CHANCE. 

you Stand there looking at me with those 
eyes." 

** I take them away for this," she cried, 
and flung them round his neck. " Do you 
think I am going to give you up .^" she 
murmured, and for answer he clasped her 
to his heart and kissed her as he had never 
dared to kiss her before. 

'' My love ! my darling!" he said, passion- 
ately, " I cannot live without you !" 

Then she told him how she had slipped 
out, when she knew her father and mother 
were shut up together, in the hope of in- 
tercepting him in the wood, and she gently 
upbraided him for having gone to her father 
at all. 

" You knew he would never consent to our 
marriage," she said, "even if there were no 
Mr. Milbanke in the question. Perhaps if 
you were to write some grand opera, and get 
famous all at once, he might listen to you, 
but as you are now, you have no chance. 



TRUE OR FALSE. 8 I 

You do not mind my saying this, do you ?'* 
she added, looking at him with admiring 
eyes, " for you know I do not want you one 
whit different from what you are." 

He Hstened enraptured. The glamour of 
her presence was too strong to leave any 
room for reason or commonsense, and not 
one thought was given by him to the future 
as he stood beside her in that secluded spot. 
It was enough for him that she had come t© 
him there of her own accord, and had allowed 
him to clasp her in his arms and lavish upon 
her a hundred endearing names. He, no 
doubt, believed that she would give up her 
rich lover for his sake, and abandon father, 
mother and home at his bidding ; but he 
little knew the nature of the woman, who 
certainly would have given all she possessed 
in the world if she could have transferred the 
money bags of Mr. Milbanke to this penniless 
youth, whose noble beauty of face and grace 
of figure would haunt her to her dying day. 
VOL. n. G 



82 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

The danger of the double game she was 
playing was patent enough to her ; she looked 
ahead after every cautious or incautious move, 
but she trusted to the chapter of accidents to 
see her safely out of the mesh in which she 
had involved herself. She knew perfectly 
well that marriage with Rossitur in his 
present position, or indeed in any position, 
was absolutely impossible, and that her mar- 
riage with Mr. Milbanke was an absolute 
certainty. To love a poor man and to phil- 
ander with him was one thing, to link herself 
A^oluntarily to his poverty was another. But 
as the summer days sped on, and these stolen 
meetings in the wood were continued, she 
made much ado to persuade Rossitur that if 
he would but be patient all would be well. 
It would never do for them to run away on 
the chance of obtaining her father's forgive- 
ness as soon as she was married. The only 
way out of the difficulty was to temporise. 

His proud spirit chafed against the secrecy, 



TRUE OR FALSE. S^ 

but his Infatuation, which day by day became 
wilder and less under control, forced him to 
bend to her will. 

His sister Alice, watching him narrowly, 
saw that since the return of Lady Judith he 
had some secret spring of happiness to which 
he gave her no clue. He was in the gayest 
spirits ; the light had come back to his eyes 
and the elasticity to his step. He once more 
took pleasure in his work, and it was at that 
time that one of the sweetest songs he ever 
composed was written and sent off to the 
publisher. Love inspired him, and he wrote 
as he had never written before. 

What was the meaning of it all, the sister 
wondered. He still heard Lady Judith's 
engagement spoken of in the village ; it was 
rumoured that Mr. Milbanke was expected 
immediately at the Park, and that as soon as 
he came the wedding-day would be fixed, 
Alice made up her mind to act the spy, and 
find out when and where her brother and 



84 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Lady Judith met, for that they met and met 
often, she was certain. 

She noticed that four and sometimes five 
times a week he went out, always at the same 
hour, with a book under his arm, as if for a 
quiet saunter In the woods. She at first 
thought that Lady Judith would not be rash 
enough to meet him so near home, but still 
it was possible. So she followed him one 
afternoon, and was an eye-witness to the 
meeting between the lovers. It was ardent 
enough to Imply not only devotion but con- 
stancy on both sides, but Alice could not and 
would not*' believe In the lady's sincerity; so 
she made up her mind, at all hazards, to put 
an end to this clandestine intercourse. 

Her first attempt was made with her 
brother. 

'' It is of no use to deny to me that you 
meet her," she said, " for I followed you 
yesterday to Warleigh Copse " — the seques- 
tered glade in Stilllngfort Wood that the 



TRUE OR FALSE. 85 

lovers had chosen for their trysting-place — 
"and saw you together." 

" I had no idea that I had a spy for a 
sister," Rossitur broke in angrily. 

" I spy upon you," she retorted, " because 
you are laying up misery for yourself in the 
future and behaving dishonourably now. I 
suppose you are fond of that woman, and she 
likes you well enough to meet you in secret ; 
but mark my words, she will never marry you, 
and you ought to be too proud to let her 
delude you into these underhand dealings. 
If you were her equal in birth it would be 
different, but your father's son cannot afford 
to act dishonourably." 

Rossitur winced. He had many scruples 
about the deception he was carrying on, but 
he silenced them all by the plea that he and 
Lady Judith were driven to meet in secret, 
as her father had practically turned him out 
of the house and insulted him by asking if he 
had come for money. But then the temp- 



86 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

tatlon ! He was young ; he was in love, and 
willing to fling everything to the winds for 
her sake. 

" Do you suppose I don't know all that ?" 
he exclaimed ; '' but a man must fight with the 
best weapons he has. Lord and Lady Stil- 
lingfort are bent upon forcing their daughter 
into a marriage she abhors ; she is obliged 
to temporise to protect herself, and it would 
be hard indeed if we were never to meet." 

Alice said no more, but an anonymous 
communication which reached Lord Stilling- 
fort the following day was written by her. 
It briefly informed his lordship that Lady 
Judith and Charles Rossitur, the organist, 
were in the habit of meeting almost every 
day at a certain hour in Warleigh Copse, 
in the heart of Stillingfort Wood. 

''It is a curious revenge of fate," Lord 
Stillingfort said to himself, as, having ascer- 
tained that his daughter was not in the house, 
he set out for Warleigh Copse to interrupt 



TRUE OR FALSE. 87 

the lovers' meeting. " When this young 
fellow was an infant, my stepbrother carried 
off his mother from her husband, and now 
the child is a man, and he makes secret love 
to my daughter. Were it not for the horrible 
wrong his family had suffered from a member 
of mine It would go hard with him to-day ; 
but, knowing what I do, how can I accuse 
him of dishonour ?" 

Disheartened by his sister's reproaches, 
Rossitur that same afternoon urged upon 
Lady Judith the necessity of making It 
known without further delay that she did not 
mean to fulfil her engagement with Mr. 
Milbanke. 

" Every day you grow dearer and more 
dear to me, my darling," he said, "and every 
day I hate more and more the false position 
I am In." 

*' I am glad you have the grace to acknow- 
ledge that the position Is a false one," said 
the sharp clear voice of Lord Stilllngfort at 



88 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

his elbow — so absorbed were the lovers in 
one another that he came upon them un- 
observed — '' and, therefore, the sooner it is 
put an end to finally the better." 

Rossitur fell back mortified beyond expres- 
sion, and unable for very shame to utter a 
word in his defence as the angry father drew 
his daughter's arm within his own. Then 
the thought that his too brief hours of 
happiness were over, and that long months, 
if not years, of weary waiting might be 
before him and the woman who was so madly 
beloved, overcame him, and he eagerly, 
passionately entreated to be allowed one word 
of farewell. 

But Lord Stillingfort was inexorable. '' I 
cannot trust my daughter out of my sight," 
he said, with a glance at her that said more 
than words ; but, for some reason known only 
to himself, he did not reproach the young 
man. 

''You must not blame her, my lord," cried 



trup: or false. 89 

Rossitur, '' I am In fault throughout. I urged 
her to meet me here secretly. I beseech you 
do not visit my wrong-doing upon her." 

Lord Stillingfort, who had turned away, 
stopped short, and faced Rossitur again. 
*' Judith," he said, addressing his daughter, 
*' Is what he says true ? Did he ask you to 
meet him here ?" 

She raised her beautiful eyes to the young 
man's face, hesitated for a moment, and then 
answered, boldly, '' Yes, papa." 

It was but the corroboration of his own 
statement, but, somehow, the falsehood that 
had fallen so glibly from her lips sent a 
deadly chill of disappointment through him 
and planted the first doubt in his heart. 

Was the woman who had uttered it herself 
true or false ? 



CHAPTER VIII. 

MRS. ERSKINE FORECASTS THE FUTURE. 

It was all over ! The tragedy, so awful in its 
suddenness, which had left Amy Erskine a 
widow and her infant son heir to the old 
title and estates, was already, although barely 
a month had passed, almost forgotten in 
Simla, and life there went on as before. 
Nothing came out respecting the communi- 
cation that was handed to the unfortunate 
young man just before the last game of polo 
began ; and the impression that his reckless 
play had been caused by some information 
conveyed to him by the few lines the note 
contained died out at once as soon as his 
servant declared that the handwriting was 
that of Mrs. Erskine. 



MRS. ERSKINE FORECASTS THE FUTURE. QT 

No one supposed that she had any news 
of an exciting or agitating nature to com- 
municate, and not even the most censorious 
gossip could make anything out of the fact 
that when Pottlnger, the dead man's soldier- 
servant, arrived from the polo ground in a 
high state of excitement with the news of 
his master's death, Mrs. Ersklne had two 
visitors, gentlemen, with her. She was 
pretty and popular, and not a day passed 
without bringing visitors to the bungalow 
and poor Gus Lewin — a good - natured 
creature as everyone knew — had been most 
kind and efficient. He had broken the 
awful news to the poor young widow, and 
when she was sitting there in a sort of 
stupor, dazed by the sudden shock, it was 
Gus who thought of fetching the little boy 
to see if the sight of him would rouse her. 

Victor de Louvain's name was seemingly 
not mentioned by anyone ; It was really his 
ready arm that caught and supported Mrs. 



92 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Erskine when, on hearing from Captain 
Lewin — who, with the greatest difficulty, had 
with Rossitur's help succeeded in keeping 
Pottinger out of the room — that " Jack " had 
met with a bad accident, she had reeled back 
and all but fainted ; but, before she recovered 
full consciousness, he had disappeared from 
the scene. No one spoke of him as having 
been an eye-witness to the young widow's 
reception of the terrible news and no one 
but Rossitur knew how the dead man had 
hated him. She, putting always the worst 
•construction upon the action of her employers, 
would have been the last to admit that the 
jealousy of the husband was founded entirely 
on the fact that the Frenchman had been 
Amy's lover before her marriage. Until that 
fatal afternoon they had not met since Amy 
became Mrs. Erskine ; neither had they held 
any communication by letter. 

As so often happens, poor young Erskine's 
death was but the beginning of misfortunes. 



MRS. ERSKINE FORECASTS THE FUTURE. 93 

Pottinger, whose brain had been more or 
less affected since a severe sunstroke the 
previous year, went clean out of his mind 
before his young master was buried, and was 
removed under restraint and finally sent to 
England and placed in an asylum for treat- 
ment ; but the medical men who saw him 
before he started gave hopes of his ultimate 
recovery, and these hopes were, as a matter 
of course, communicated to his wife. 

During the first few hours that passed 
after his return to the bungalow from the 
polo ground, he lay tossing about on his 
bed, and Rossitur, who seemed, when she 
chose to use it, to possess some magnetic 
influence over him, gathered from his low 
and often incoherent mutterings that he had 
either heard of, or seen, the note she had sent 
to his master. She had ascertained beyond 
all doubt that it was not on the dead man's 
person when he was brought home ; but she 
knew that the utmost caution would be 



94 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

necessary If she attempted to search for it 
in her husband's pockets. 

As night came on he grew rapidly worse, 
and before morning broke it took the united 
strength of three men to hold him, while he 
shouted furiously that his master was being 
murdered by that "devil ;" and all the while 
he raved his wild eyes were fixed upon 
Bella's white, determined face ! But she did 
not care now what he said in his delirium. 
She had found her letter in one of his 
pockets, and it was destroyed beyond all 
possibility or chance of resuscitation, so she 
could afford to ridicule his frantic words, and 
his agonised appeals for justice upon those 
who had " murdered his dear master." 

He got perceptibly calmer when his wife, 
who ceralnly had not been watching him 
from affection, and who, now that her object 
was attained, made no attempt to soothe him, 
left him to the care of others ; nor did she, it 
may be added, take any further trouble about 



MRS. ERSKINE FORECASTS THE FUTURE. 95 

him during the short time he remained at the 
bungalow. 

It was quite touching to see how her 
mistress turned to her for consolation and 
advice in her bereavement. Amy had never 
really domineered over anyone except her 
too indulgent husband ; she, herself, had 
always been like wax in the hands of her 
clever and unscrupulous maid, and it was 
Rossitur who was her most trusted adviser. 
It was Rossitur who instructed Captain 
Lewin how to address and word the tele- 
gram that was to convey the tragic news 
to the family at the Chase ; it was Rossitur 
who urged her bewildered mistress to dictate 
the few incoherent lines written by the maid 
in her own fine bold hand, and signed 
as boldly, " Your afflicted daughter, Amy 
Erskine," which left India for Stoneshire 
by the very mail, respecting the departure of 
which the husband and wife had talked an 
hour or two before the death of the former on 



96 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

the polo ground. And in that short epistle, 
Mrs. Erskine, or Rossitur for her, promised 
to write again more fully when she had 
recovered somewhat from the terrible shock ! 
And It was Rossitur who saw the visitors 
who came to Inquire for Mrs. Erskine ; and 
she also designed the monument that was 
erected over her late master's grave, and the 
inscription upon It was really her composition, 
although she so cleverly contrived to put her 
own words Into the mouth of her mistress, 
that Amy thought the graceful and touching 
tribute to her husband's memory was all her 
own. Letters of condolence too, were, for 
the most part, answered by Rossitur ; some- 
times in the name of the widow, but as often 
in her own ; there was but one, and one only, 
that Amy kept to herself — but Rossitur con- 
trived to get a peep at it — and answered with 
her own hand, and that was a brief note of 
manly unaffected sympathy from Monsieur de 
Louvain, written from Calcutta. 



MRS. ERSKINE FORECASTS THE FUTURE. 97 

He was about to start immediately for 
Europe, and any communication addressed 
to him, " Poste Restante, Naples," would find 
him up to a given time. There was not a 
word in the letter that might not have been 
printed and published to the world, but, some- 
how, Amy could not bring herself to treat a 
letter from him as she would have treated 
a letter from Gus Lewin, or any of her 
acquaintances in poor Jack's old regiment. 
She felt as if she owed him some compensa- 
tion for the dead man's unreasonable aversion 
to him ; and to herself also, just to prove, as 
it were, that the friendship between her and 
de Louvain was beyond reproach. 

Poor Amy was perplexed beyond measure 
just then at the complication in her feelings. 
Her husband's sudden death had given her 
a terrible shock, and she most sincerely 
regretted that on that fatal afternoon she 
had let him go without a tender and wife- 
like farewell ! Rather with a gibe indeed, 

VOL. II H 



98 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

which was meant In jest, but which was not 
pleasant to remember when he was brought 
home to her, dead. 

It is not too much to say that she missed 
him at every turn. He had petted and spoiled 
her so persistently that she felt lonely with- 
out the attentions which had somehow bored 
her not a little when they were offered. 
Her social position, too, was now com- 
pletely altered. Her baby boy might be Sir 
John some day, but she could never be Lady 
Erskine ; and although, no doubt, her father- 
in-law would give her a handsome allowance, 
In addition to her post - nuptial settlement, 
and a home at the Chase, she did not look 
forward to life In a dull English house in the 
country with much satisfaction. 

So, although she grieved for her husband, 
she was by no means broken-hearted at his 
loss ; perhaps she was even more genuinely 
sorry for herself, and for all the trouble and 
discomfort her widowhood had brought her, 



MRS. ERSKINE FORECASTS THE FUTURE. 99 

than for the man who had loved her but too 
well. 

Part of her trouble was caused by Pot- 
tlnger's insanity. It was very inconsiderate 
of him, she thought, to go mad just as she 
particularly wanted him to have all his wits 
about him for her benefit and at her disposal. 
She could have bought his discharge from 
the regiment, and then he would have 
travelled home with her and Rossitur and the 
two children, and finally settled in England 
with his wife and their boy. But, as he had 
gone out of his mind, it w^as clearly her duty 
to keep Rossitur and her son until he re- 
covered ; and, if he never recovered. Sir John, 
no doubt, would be able to get the child 
into an Orphan Asylum, and Rossitur would 
continue to act as her maid. 

Thus did Amy Erskine forecast the future. 



CHAPTER IX. 

MISS MASHAM HAS HER SUSPICIONS. 

*' And so he is back again from America ?" 
That is good news, so far." The speaker 
was little Miss Masham. She was in her own 
drawing-room at the Rosary, and the visitor 
she addressed was Letty Erskine, or Mrs. 
Herbert Otway, as she had a right to be 
called, and as she was always called in Little 
Centre Bridge. It was true, and known to 
everyone In town, that she and her husband 
had parted at the church door, so to speak 
but the marriage had not been annulled, and 
to all intents and purposes the pair were man 
and wife, although they never met, never 
wrote to one another, and, for what outsiders 
knew, never thought of one another. 



MISS MASH AM HAS HER SUSPICIONS. lOI 

But as to the thinking, only Otway for 
himself, and Letty for herself, could speak. 
But it is a fact that she believed firmly he had 
forgotten her, and he had no reason to think 
that the girl who had behaved so heartlessly 
to him on her wedding-day had fallen des- 
perately In love with him three days later, 
and would have sacrificed everything she 
possessed — except her stubborn pride, of 
course — to hear him say once more " Letty, 
I love you." 

In many respects she was very much 
altered since the day, now more than a year 
ago, that she and her husband of an hour 
had stood face to face In the drawing- 
room in Halkin Street. In person she was 
more attractive ; her saucy, sparkling, girlish 
beauty had gained some quality impossible to 
define In words ; her pretty, slender figure 
had filled out and matured without the loss 
of an iota of her girlish grace, and if more 
silent and thoughtful than of old, she spoke 



I02 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

to more purpose now than In the old days 
when thoughtless words and gay repartee fell 
in one continuous stream from her pretty lips. 
She could not in the least understand 
herself how such a change had come over 
her since she began to love the man whose 
affection she had scorned and repulsed ; it 
seemed now that to think of him, and to 
live over again in memory the days she had 
spent with him during their engagement, 
made up the happiness of her life ! How 
kind he had been ! How tender ; how indul- 
gent to her absurd caprices ; how patient, 
and oh, how loving ! And how had she 
repaid him ? With stupid sarcasms she 
was ashamed to remember ; with coldness 
— with indifference, and too often with un- 
womanly displays of petulance and temper ! 
Oh, for the power to live that year over 
again ; to undo all that she had done, and 
bind to her for ever and ever the one man 
in the world whom she could honour as well 



MISS MASHAM HAS HER SUSPICIONS. IO3 

as love ! That was how she put It ; she was 
now as prone to exalt him unduly as, in her 
blindness, she had debased him. 

But, cherished in secret, it was but natural 
that her repentance and love should grow, 
the one more absorbing, the other more 
painful in depth and sincerity. No one 
suspected what was going on In her mind, 
for the passion of pride was almost as strong 
as the love and repentance put together. 
Remembering Otway's outspoken scorn on 
the day of their final separation, she would 
have died rather than approach him as a 
suppliant for love and forgiveness. 

Her father and aunt, who had at first 
taken the matter very much to heart, were 
now resigned to what appeared Inevitable. 
They had outlived the awkwardness of having 
to explain that Letty and her husband had 
parted on their wedding-day, and that there 
was no hope of a reconciliation ; and she 
lived on quietly at the Chase, and might 



I04 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

have taken up her old life and been happy 
enough but for the cruel pain at her heart 
and the daily renewed and fierce struggle, 
which always ended in the same way, 
between love and pride. 

Letty had always liked Miss Masham, but 
of late the two had become very fast friends 
indeed. The reason was not hard to find ; 
the old lady was the only one who ever spoke 
to her of Otway. What she said was not 
always pleasant to hear, but Letty would 
have endured more disagreeable words for 
the satisfaction of hearing his name. She 
kept her secret most jealously guarded from 
this candid and clear-sighted friend, but 
nevertheless, Miss Masham suspected that 
Letty was less indifferent than she seemed, 
although to her the girl always dwelt upon 
Otway's declaration that his bride's treatment 
of him had given the death - blow to his 
affection for her. 

*' He is not the man I take him for, if it 



MISS MASHAM HAS HER SUSPICIONS. IO5 

would do anything of the kind," the old lady 
used to say to herself; "but at the same 
time, if women are capricious, men are fickle, 
and it may be 'out of sight out of mind' with 
him." 

On this particular afternoon, Letty had 
walked over to the Rosary to spend an hour 
or two with her old friend, and her pony 
carriage was to call for her about six o'clock. 
Miss Masham was full of the news of Lady 
Judith Forster's approaching marriage to Mr. 
Milbanke, which she had heard that morning 
from Dr. Murray, and he had had his infor- 
mation direct from Lord Stillingfort himself. 

" And from what the doctor tells me, my 
dear," she said, '' I am afraid they have had a 
great deal of trouble on account of that hand- 
some young organist Charles Rossitur. It 
seems he went to Lord Stillingfort and 
proposed in form for the young lady, and then 
it was found out that she and he used to 
meet four or five times a week in the woods." 



I06 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

** I think It is very wrong to force her to 
marry Mr. Milbanke if she cares for Charles 
Rossitur," said Letty. 

" Dear me ! are you coming out as an 
advocate of romance ?" cried Miss Masham. 

" And why should I not ?" asked Letty, 
quickly. " Are not all women romantic ? I 
believe Judith cares for young Rossitur ; why, 
then, should not Lord Stillingfort do some- 
thing for him and let them marry ?" 

" Because, my dear, in the first place, the 
Stillingforts are as proud as Lucifer, and they 
do not believe that ' rank is but the guinea 
stamp,' unless the commoner has plenty of 
stamped guineas ; and, in the second, because 
I believe that Lady Judith herself does not 
love this youth enough to give up position 
and money for his sake." 

''A woman ought to give up everything in 
the world for the man she loves." 

" Dear me ! now, is that so ?" said Miss 
Masham, with her little head on one side like 



MISS MASHAM HAS HER SUSPICIONS. lO/ 

a pert bird. " I thought love had gone out 
of fashion ages and ages ago. But, no doubt, 
you know more about it than I do." 

" Indeed I do not. I never was in love, 
and I never mean to be." 

'' That being the case, it is a pity you 

happen to be married." And then came the 

abrupt remark : " And so he is back from 

America ?" 

" If you are speaking of Mr. Otway, I 

believe he came back from Florida a fort- 
night ago." 

"And is there any chance of our seeing 
him down here ? He is a man we all 
like very much — at least, I can speak for 
myself." 

" I should think Little Centre Bridee is 
about the last place in England he would 
come to." 

"That is strange, too, considering that his 
wife lives here." 

" Now, Miss Masham, you know perfectly 



I08 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

well that he and I would go a hundred miles 
out of our way to avoid one another." 

*' I know nothing of the kind ; and I think 
if you did you would take a great deal of 
unnecessary exercise. I believe if you were 
to write to-day and say, ' Herbert, come ;' 
he would telegraph to say, ' Letty, I am 
coming ;' and when you met you would rush 
into one another's arms !" 

'' I am quite sure I shouldn't rush into 

IS. 

'' But if he rushed into yours it would do 
just as well." 

Letty shook her head. 

*' Then, my dear girl, if you do not love 
Herbert Otway — and if I were a young lady 
and married to him I should simply adore 
such a nice, handsome fellow — it is your duty 
to have the marriage annulled, and to marry 
someone else, and to allow him to marry, 
too. 

" I do not want to marry anyone." 



MISS MASHAM HAS HER SUSPICIONS. IO9 

'* But he may have fallen in love with some 
girl he met in America. You can't tell. The 
American women are very fascinating, and it 
is a shame to keep him gagged and bound 
when you do not want him yourself." 

'* I do not want to keep him, I assure 
you," Letty answered, with some asperity. 
''He may marry a dozen American women, 
each one more fascinating than the other, 
if he likes." 

*' I have no doubt one would satisfy him 
but he ought to be free to choose. What in 
the world is the matter with the child now ?" 

Letty's face had flushed suddenly from 
chin to brow, and as suddenly the colour all 
faded away again, leaving her as white as a 
ghost. 

"Look! look! Miss Masham," she cried. 
'' Do you see who is coming up the drive ?'' 

Miss Masham ran to the window and 
looked out. 

'' Herbert Otway himself," she exclaimed. 



no A GAME OF CHANCE. 

" Now, Letty, faint in his arms, and every- 
thing will come right." 

But Letty drew herself up stiffly. ** I am 
not going to meet him," she said. 



CHAPTER X. 

THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS. 

" But I do not see how you are to avoid 
meeting him, my dear," said Miss Masham, 
" unless you jump out of the window ; for ypu 
must run against him in the hall if you go 
that way. I know the door leading from the 
conservatory is locked, and — here he is," 
as the door was opened and the parlour- 
maid announced '' Mr. Herbert Otway, from 
London." 

If Letty had been taken aback when she 
recognised her husband — the man whom for 
months past she had been pining to catch 
even a passing glimpse of — in the unexpected 
visitor, Otway was no less dumbfoundered 
when, on entering Miss Masham's drawing- 



112 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

room, he saw his wife — the girl still so 
passionately loved in spite of all the deter- 
mined efforts he had made to forget her, and 
to take up some absorbing work in which he 
could lose himself gladly, and so prevent his 
mind from dwelling upon the happiness he 
had lost. 

But the joy that thrilled through him at 
the mere sight of her, more beautiful, if 
possible, than when she repelled and mocked 
him on their wedding-day, was not visible in 
his face ; and the bow with which he returned 
her stiff salutation, was as unbending and 
formal as her own. 

" Mercy on me, what extraordinary polite- 
ness," thought Miss Masham, but It struck 
her that Otway looked both sad and serious, 
and she suspected that his visit had some 
serious import. 

And she was right. An intimate friend of 
his had heard of Jack Erskine's death, in a 
private telegram from India, and he had come 



THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS. I 1 3 

down at once to break the sad news to the 
family at the Chase. He thought It more 
than probable that they would hear It first 
through the Times on the following Monday 
morning, unless It occurred to the widow, 
or some of her friends, to send a telegram. 
It did occur to them a few days after the 
accident happened, and at that very moment 
the message was near Its destination. 

Otway's courage failed him completely a^ 
soon as he reached Little Centre Bridge 
station. How could he face Sir John with 
the appalling news of his son's death '^. How 
could he stand face to face with Letty In the 
first great sorrow of her life without betraying 
that his love for her was not dead, and so 
expose himself to another rebuff? 

Then he thought of kind little Miss 
Masham. He would go to her in the first 
instance, tell her what had happened, and 
consult with her upon the best means of 
breaking the news to the bereaved father. 

VOL. II. I 



114 ^ GAME OF CHANCE. 

That he might come across Letty, or any of 
the family at the Rosary, never occurred to 
him, and never In his Hfe had he felt so em- 
barrassed, or so utterly unable to decide 
quickly what to do, as when he found the 
woman who was his wife, and yet not his 
wife, seated with their common friend. 

Miss Masham saw at once there was some- 
thing wrong. " I am very glad to see you, 
Mr. Otway," she said, and she spoke In her 
most matter-of-fact tone. " Strange to say, I 
was just asking Letty If you were back from 
America. It is very nice of you to come 
first to me, but " 

He interrupted her with a gesture. '' I 
hoped to see you alone," he said, "for I am 
sorry to say I am the bearer of bad 
news " 

Letty rose hurriedly ; he had glanced at 
her as he spoke. ** Not from India .'^" she 
said. ''Is there anything wrong with Jack 
or Amy ?" 



THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS. II5 

She was close to him now ; her face was 
still very white, and her hand was laid with a 
nervous clasp on Miss Masham's arm. " You 
will think me very silly, I dare say," she went 
on, " but for a week past I have been expect- 
ing to hear bad news. I never mentioned it 
to anyone for fear of being laughed at, but 
twice lately I distinctly saw Jack lying on the 
ground as if he were dead, with a crowd of 
men about him. " Has anything happened 
to him ?'' 

" He met with an accident playing polo a 
few days ago," Otway answered, '' and he 
IS 

•*Dead!" cried Letty. *'0h! I knew it! 
1 knew it ! Oh ! poor papa !" 

She was swaying on her feet, overcome by 
sudden faintness. Otway sprang forward and 
caught her in his arms ; but either she had 
her senses sufficiently about her to recoil a 
little when he touched her, or he fancied she 
did, for he at once overcame his first impulse 



I 1 6 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

to hold her while he sent Miss Masham for 
restoratives, and half-leading, half-supporting 
her to the nearest couch, he laid her gently 
down and then stood aside. 

She had not actually fainted, and a sigh 
broke from her involuntarily as she thought 
how irksome it must have been to him to be 
obliged to do anything for her ; he had got 
rid of her so quickly. 

" I am better," she said, presently. Then 
she turned her face away and burst into tears. 
Some of them were shed for the dead 
brother, but those that were wrung from her 
by the too evident coldness and indifference 
of the man who had once loved her so well, 
were a hundred-fold more full of anguish and 
heartfelt grief! And how carefully it behoved 
her now to guard the secret of her love. 

As she wept silently, Miss Masham and 
Otway talked together, and he told her all 
he knew of the accident. But no particulars 
had reached him ; the telegram to his friend 



THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS. I I 7 

had simply mentioned the accident at the 
polo match. " Of course, Mrs. Erskine will 
write, or someone for her," he said ; " she 
must have plenty of friends out there. At 
Simla I think it happened." 

*'Yes; they went to Simla with the 
Viceroy," Letty said, rousing herself with an 
effort and sitting up. Otway involuntarily 
glanced at her left hand as she put both 
up to fasten a loose lock of hair, and saw 
the wedding-ring, with its keeper, on her 
finger. 

" Her badge of servitude, poor girl !" he 
said to himself with bitter emphasis. " How 
she must hate to look at it !" 

" It will break papa's heart !" Letty went 
on. " He was fonder of Jack than of any- 
one in the world ! Oh ! I hope Amy will 
come home at once and bring the boy. He 
will be a comfort to us and papa will like to 
bring him up at the Chase. '' I suppose," 
and she glanced at Otway — he thought her 



Il8 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

quickly averted look meant repugnance — 
'' you heard nothing of my sister-in-law ?" 

''There was nothing about Mrs. Erskine 
in the telegram ; but excuse me for suggest- 
ing, do you not think it would be well to 
break the news to Sir John and Miss 
Lambton ? A telegram might arrive from 
Simla at any moment." 

''Oh, certainly!" cried Letty, rising quickly, 
"Thank you for reminding me. Has the 
carriage come, Miss Masham ?" 

Otway went to the window, and saw his 
old friends, Fire and Smoke, the ponies, 
stamping and tossing their pretty heads 
about at the door. The mere sight of the 
handsome tricky little pair in their bright 
harness brought with it such a train of 
recollections, that for a few seconds he could 
not speak. Then he said, with perfect com- 
posure, " Yes ; your ponies are here." 

"He forgets the drives we used to take 
together!" thought Letty. "I wonder if he 



THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS. II9 

remembers even their names !" She threw 
her arms round Miss Masham's neck for a 
moment, and hid her face on the kind Httle 
woman's shoulders. " Oh ! it is hard to 
bear!" she sobbed, "so hard!" 

"It is, my dear ; very, very hard ! But 
you must not cry ;" and she patted the 
girl's shoulder in a tender, motherly fashion. 
Otway turned away ; what right had he to 
witness the grief he could not soothe ? 

" Now if I could send them off together 
something might come of it ;" thought Miss 
Masham, as Letty put on her hat and gloves 
and once more said good-bye. 

" Come over to-morrow," the girl said. 

"Yes, dear, yes; good-bye. Don't fret too 

much. Mr. Otway, will you see Miss 1 

mean Mrs. that is, will you see Letty to 

the carriage." 

He put her in and she tried to take the 
reins ; but her hands trembled so violently 
she could not hold them, and she was blinded 



I20 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

by the tears that were streaming behind her 
veil. 

*' You are not fit to drive or to go alone," 
he cried. " Take the other seat and give me 
the reins." 

The authoritative voice, and the deter- 
mined gesture with which he took the whip 
and reins acted like a charm. She moved 
meekly without a word, and left the driving 
seat empty; he stepped In, and to her infinite 
surprise and pleasure. Miss Masham saw the 
pair drive off together. 

But the not very long distance between 
the Rosary and the Chase was traversed In 
complete silence. Letty could not speak, 
Otway would not ; and he looked cold, stern 
and forbidding enough to frighten any 
timid and shrinking woman as he whipped 
the ponies at a smart pace through the 
town. 

Mrs. Crump's was full of ladles shopping, 
and for half-an-hour after the carriage passed 



THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS. 121 

a hot argument was carried on as to who the 
man was who was driving Mrs. Otway ! 

Letty jumped out as the ponies stopped ; 
the great door stood open as usual, and 
she ran into the hall. The house seemed 
unusually silent ; Miss Lambton and Orion 
generally appeared to welcome Letty when 
she came back from her drives, but this 
afternoon there was not a sound ; not even 
the welcoming bark of a dog. 

" Perhaps papa and Aunt Louise are out," 
she said to Otway, who was following her. 
She looked into the drawing-room ; it was 
empty ; so also was the morning-room. She 
went on to the library, and softly opening 
the door, looked in. One glance was enough 
to tell her that the terrible blow she hoped to 
avert had fallen in her absence. Sir John 
was seated at the table with his face buried 
in his hands. The telegram from India was 
on the floor by his side, and Miss Lambton, 
in a chair close by, was gazing at him mourn- 



122 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

fully, and every now and then putting her 
handkerchief to her eyes. 

Letty rushed forward and threw her arms 
round her father's neck ! At her touch the 
old man turned, and, hiding his face upon her 
bosom, sobbed out, '' Oh, Letty, my darling, 
I have lost my boy !" 



CHAPTER XI. 

FATHER AND DAUGHTER. 

It was some time before Letty could soothe 
poor Sir John's outburst of grief. The news 
was so unexpected, and was conveyed to him 
with such concise coldness by the telegram^ 
that he was utterly prostrated by the shock. 
But at length Letty's gentle caresses and 
loving care brought him round, and he lay 
on a couch in the library, and, with her hand 
in his, talked quietly and naturally of his lost 
son. 

'' But how did you hear the news, my 
darling ?" he said at last. '' Surely it is 
not known in the town yet ?" 

** No, papa." And Letty hesitated and 
blushed painfully ; it cost her so much to 



124 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

speak of Otway, and yet speak of him she 
must sooner or later. '' I heard it from Mr. 
Otway." 

" From Otway ! Do you mean Herbert 
Otway, the man you married ?" and Sir 
John, in his amazement, sat up and stared 
at his daughter. *' Did he send you the 
news : 

*' He did not send it, papa. He came 
down himself to break it to us. It was 
mentioned in a telegram sent to a friend 
of his. He did not like to come here, so 
he went to the Rosary, and I was there with 
Miss Masham " 

''And you met!" interrupted Sir John. 
"Well ; and what happened?" 

" Nothing happened," answered Letty. 
'' He drove me home, and he is here now." 

'• And do you mean to tell me you never 
spoke to one another — that you have not 
made it up ?" 

'* I do not think we even shook hands," 



FATHER AND DAUGHTER. I 25 

said Letty. '' Indeed I am sure we did not ; 
and as to making up, as you call it, it is 
impossible ! You know how I dislike him, 
papa, and I should think he is now quite 
indifferent to me ; his manner certainly im- 
plied as much." 

Sir John sighed. '* It is very odd," he 
said; "a pretty girl like you, and a fine, hand- 
some fellow like Otway, and, although you 
are actually married to one another, you 
detest him, and he seems to have got over 
any liking he had for you ! What do you 
think, Letty — has he got over it ?'' 

'* I should say he has quite got over it," 
replied Letty, promptly. 

"Then I think something ought to be 
done to set you both free," said Sir John. 
'' I know from what my poor dear boy said 
more than once in his letters to me, that /le 
thought it was an awkward position for you 
to be in ; and, perhaps, now that Otway is 
here it would be well to arrange with him to 



126 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

have the marriage declared null and void. 
What do you say ?" 

''It will be very disagreeable to me to have 
the subject mentioned," said Letty, and with 
great difficulty she controlled her trembling 
voice. '' If he wishes to be unmarried, let 
him say so ; I — I do not care about it one 
way or the other." 

" But you will care very much some day 
when you meet a man you like and who 
likes you. There was young Harry Digby 
last winter would have given the world to 
marry you ! He thought you were a young 
widow, and I had to explain to him how it 
was. He asked me why I did not annul the 
marriage, and said it could be done quite 
easily." 

*' If it were annulled to-morrow," cried 
Letty, '' it would not help him, and I think 
he was very impertinent to dictate to you ! 
I would not marry him if he were the only 
man in the world !" 



FATHER AND DAUGHTER. 12/ 

*' Then Colonel Probyn was very much 
smitten with you ! Surely you like him ?" 

** Yes ; I like him, but I do not want to 
marry him." 

** You must be very hard to please. Why 
can you not make friends with Otway and 
have done with It ?" 

''It Is not of the slightest use to talk to me 
about him, papa ; and he cares quite as little 
for me as I care for him. Please do not let 
us talk about It any more ; we have so 
much to think of. I cannot believe that our 
darling Jack Is dead ! Oh, how I wish 
he had never gone to India! Poor Amy! 
What a terrible shock to her ! I wonder 
how she Is." 

''Ah ! poor child ! We must get her home 
at once with the boy. This Is the proper 
place for them. She must live with us, poor 
darling ! What a sad home-coming ! And 
next year he was coming back on long leave, 
so proud, poor lad, with his wife and child ! 



128 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

But we must have her here as soon as she 
can come. Eh, Letty ?" 

''Certainly she must come to us, papa. I 
am sure she does not wish to stay In India, 
and your grandson ought to be brought up 
at the Chase. Amy may marry again some 
day ; but she ought to leave the boy with us." 

*' Marry again !" cried Sir John. '' Why 
should she marry again ? You are very good 
at marrying other people, my dear. It will 
disappoint me very much if my son's widow 
marries again." 

'* But she is so young, papa." 

" Her age has nothing to do with it. Mrs. 
John Erskine can take a very good position 
in the county. But if she chooses to marry, 
she must certainly leave the child with me ; 
I am not going to give him up to the tender 
mercies of a stepfather ! Oh, poor Jack ! 
My poor, dear lad ! To think that you are 
dead ! I wonder if poor, dear Amy will be 
able to write and give us some particulars." 



FATHER AND DAUGHTER. 1 29 

" She has never written to any of us," said 
Letty. 

** But she will now ; I am sure she will ; 
and we must write by next mail and urge 
her to come home to us at once. What has 
become of your aunt .f^ She was here when 
you came in." 

'' She is entertaining Mr. Otway, I sup- 
pose. I told you he was here." 

"Here! in the house .^ He's not gone 
then ? tlow very awkward ! Is he going* 
to stay, do you know ?" 

" He must stay to-night, I suppose," said 
Letty ; "but I should think he will go away 
very early to-morrow morning." 

" Oh, he had much better stay a day 
or two now he is here, and cheer us up 
a bit ! That is, if you do not mind, my 
dear." 

"It is a matter of perfect indifference to 
me," Letty answered ; and as she spoke her 
heart was beating wildly at the bare idea of 
VOL. n. K 



130 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

being In the same house with him for a few 
days. 

*' Then I shall ask him," said Sir John, 
"'and before he goes we might, perhaps, be 
able to arrange something about annulling 
the marriage. I mean, of course, that he 
may make some proposition to me ; and 
now, do you mind asking him to come and 
talk to me here for a while ?" 

Letty went without alacrity, and she found 
Otway with Miss Lambton. *' Papa would 
like to see you," she said, halting just inside 
the door and not addressing anyone In 
particular. 

Otway smiled ; a most aggravating and 
impertinent smile, Letty thought. " To 
which of us does * you ' apply ?" he said. 

** Does Sir John want to see me, my dear ?" 
Miss Lambton cried in the same breath. 

*' He wants to see Mr. Otway," Letty 
explained, speaking stiffly, with her head in 
the air. 



FATHER AND DAUGHTER. I3I 

" I am at his service," Otway answered, 
pleasantly. 

As he passed Letty In the doorway she 
and he exchanged their first direct look 
that day. Her glance was cold and slightly 
scornful and defiant! His was an enigma! 
There was no warmth in it certainly, but 
there was neither scorn nor defiance ; it 
would have taken an expert in eye language 
to read it aright ; and even if Letty had 
been an expert she was by no means calm' 
enough for analysis. 

'' How well he is looking !" Miss Lambton 
said, as soon as she and her niece were alone, 
** and he spoke so nicely and feelingly 
of darling Jack ! And to think that they 
never met ! It was so odd his meeting you 
at the Rosarv, was it not ? He told me 
all about it. I asked him how he thought 
you were looking, and he said he really 
hadn't noticed. If I did not know by ex- 
perience how very truthful he is I s hould 



132 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

not have believed him ; should you, my 
dear ?" 

" But, my dear aunt, you forget that he 
and I find no pleasure in looking at one 
another." 

*' Yes, dear ; I know you dislike him, but I 
thought he liked you." 

" Oh !" said Letty, and she laughed a 
rather hard little laugh, '' that was more than 
a year ago." 



CHAPTER XII. 

OTWAY SAYS GOOD-BYE. 

Miss Masham's friends at the Rectory had 
an early visit from her the following day. 
'' And were you not surprised to hear that 
Herbert Otway had come down?" she said, as 
soon as poor Jack Ersklne's sudden death had 
been fully discussed. " I was never more 
astonished In my life than when he walked 
In ! And there was Letty as red as a peony, 

and looking I don't very well know 

what she looked like, except very pretty ! 
Half-angry and halt-frightened, but If I am 
not very much mistaken, not altogether Ill- 
pleased to see him again." 

'' But not exactly glad, I am afraid," said 
the doctor. '* I ventured to talk to her 



134 A GAME OF CHAN'CE. 

about him the other day, and to give her a 
little bit of friendly advice about the 
anomalous position they are both in, and she 
fired up and asked me if I wanted her to live 
with a man she detested — that was the word 
— so what could I say ?" 

" I have my suspicions about the detesta- 
tion," said Miss Masham, " but, of course, 
I may be wrong. One thing, however, is 
certain ; the first move must be made by 
him. She will not stir a step, and to tell 
you the truth, I do not see how she can." 

"He was desperately in love with her," 
said the Rector. " I wonder if he has got 
over it by this." 

*' He showed no signs of desperation yes- 
terday!" said Miss Masham. "If she was 
cool, he was cooler ; but he drove her home 
in the pony carriage from my house." 

"I saw them," said Mrs. Murray. " I was 
in Crump's, and I was certain the man who 
was driving the ponies was Mr. Otway ; 



OTWAY SAYS GOOD-BYE. 1 35 

but when I said so, Mrs. Sumner and Mrs. 
Verity, who happened to be in the shop too, 
contradicted me flatly, and said they were 
sure nothing would induce him to come here. 

" Well ; you can have a crow over both of 
them now, my dear," said the doctor, " for 
you see he is here." 

" I want to know if they will have to be 
married over again if they are reconciled 
now," said Miss Masham. "What do you 
say, doctor ?" 

'' Oh, dear, no ! The ecclesiastical cement 
does not rub off like that. I am surprised 
Sir John does not get the marriage annulled. 
He told me himself that young Digby 
proposed for Letty last winter, under the 
impression that she was a widow." 

''And that Colonel someone, who was 
staying at the Chase in the spring, was very 
much in love with her, Louise Lambton told 
me. Well — who knows what will happen 
now that they have met again ? But is it not 



136 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

sad about young John ? To be killed playing 
polo ! Poor fellow ! I suppose the widow 

will come home at once with the " but 

there Miss Masham stopped short. 

Mrs. Murray had lost her baby boy when 
he was just a month old, and she had not as 
yet fully recovered her spirits. 

*' Sir John will not be happy without his 
grandson, we may be quite sure on that 
point," Dr. Murray said, quietly, " and we 
will all be glad to see the little man. Eh, 
Mary ?" with a fond glance at his wife. 
** By the way, I am curious to know If the 
wonderful maid will come here with Mrs. 
John Ersklne. I should like to see If she 
Is like her brother." 

'' That reminds me," said Miss Masham, 
** I have not seen either of you since your 
visit to Stilllngfort Park. Has the million- 
aire lover arrived, and when Is the wedding 
to be ?" 

"In October, I believe ; but It may be 



OTWAY SAYS GOOD-BYE. 1 37 

put off until after Christmas. We saw the 
millionaire's photograph ; you must ask Mary 
what she thinks of It." 

'' I did not admire him particularly," Mrs. 
Murray answered, ''but Lady Stilllngfort 
assured me he has a very taking face. He 
looks tall and thin, and much too old for 
Lady Judith." 

'' How unfortunate !" said Miss Masham, 
*' for young Rossitur, the organist. Is so 
handsome, you tell me." 

'' Lord Stillinorfort told me that Rossitur 
actually proposed to him for Lady Judith ; 
and that after he sent him about his business 
she used to meet him In the woods every 
day ! They telegraphed to America for 
Milbanke, and the young lady is closely 
watched for fear she should run away." 

''If she marries Charles Rossitur It will 
be the ruin of him !" said Miss Masham. 
"What would become of him with such a 
wife ?" 



1 ^8 A GAME OF CHANCE. 



J 



'' He would evidently like to try the ex- 
periment, if all we hear be true," said the 
doctor; "and now, ladies, I am going to 
leave you to talk together while I go over 
and see how poor Sir John is to-day." 

By special request of his host, Otway 
spent two whole days at the Chase, and as 
long as he was In the house both he and 
Letty were thoroughly uncomfortable. He 
treated her with the greatest coolness and in- 
difference, although he was always courteous 
and polite ; but whereas, in the past, he had 
been wont to ask her opinion, and to uphold 
it when given in defiance of every principle 
of reason and logic, he now calmly ignored 
her, and seemed to take every possible 
opportunity of showing how little worthy of 
notice were her remarks. 

Neither did he fetch and carry for her as of 
old, and she might leave the room and return 
to it half-a-dozen times, and yet her move- 
ments never seemed to attract his attention. 



OTWAY SAYS GOOD-BYE. 1 39 

And another trick he had that was particu- 
larly exasperating to her. He would survey 
her with cold, critical eyes, and once he 
actually expressed disapproval of the way she 
wore her hair, and suggested an alteration. 
But Letty did not adopt the, suggestion until 
he had left the Chase. 

On his part he noticed that she avoided 
being alone with him ; unsuspected by her 
he made more than one attempt to secure 
a tcle-d-tete, but she always baffled him. He 
was not very clear as to his object in getting 
her to himself, but still he was deeply 
wounded by her evident determination to 
keep aloof from him. Merely by accident 
on the day he was to leave they were alone 
together for ten minutes. For a little while 
they spoke quite amiably of the beauty of the 
weather, and then he said — " 1 should like 
very much, if it were agreeable to you all, 
to come down for a few days to make the 
acquaintance of your sister-in-law when she 



140 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

arrives. You know she is a connexion of 
mine by marriage." 

*' I am sure papa will be very glad to 
see you," Letty answered. " Shall I tell 
him ?" 

'' If you will be so kind." 

'' I thought perhaps — is it not likely ?" — 
Letty began — " I mean are you not thinking 
of going back to America soon ?" 

'' Certainly not," he answered, promptly. 
^' Why should I ?" 

'* But you might — I thought it possible — 
you know that — I mean — if you would like 

to marry someone out there " She 

blurted out the last words in an awkward 
and shamefaced manner. 

Otway burst out laughing. Letty thought 
it was such an unkind and unfeeling laugh. 
*' Oh ! I see," he said ; " but I assure you 
I find that to be married once is quite as 
much happiness as I can bear ; but if you 
would like to enter into that delightful 



OTWAY SAYS GOOD-BYE. 141 

contract a second time, pray do not let me 
stand in your way." 

'' You may be quite sure 1 shall consult my 
own convenience in every way," she answered. 

'' Without troubling yourself about me," 
he put in. '' You meant that, I know, 
although you were too police to say it. It is 
precisely what I should do myself, and it 
is quite as well that we should understand 
one another." 

Glancing at her half- averted face, he saw 
by the scarlet cheeks and quivering lips that 
she was hurt or angry, or both. '' Poor little 
woman," he said, half-aloud. 

She turned upon him like a little fury. 
" How dare you pity me !" she cried. " Can 
you not understand that, although I might 
wish to free you from an obnoxious tie, it 
is a matter of perfect indifference to me 
what you do with your freedom ? I am 
perfectly happy and contented, and all I 
ask is to be let alone." 



142 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

*' And a wish so reasonable deserves the 
utmost consideration!" he answered. "Allow 
me to apologise for having intruded upon 
you, and to say good-bye. I am going just 
now." 

She stooped suddenly ; took her dog, 
Orion, in her arms, and held his face to 
her own. *' Oh, good-bye !" she said. '* We 
will let you know when Mrs. John comes." 

'' Thank you," he answered. *' Good-bye, 
Orion," and, before she could draw back, 
he bent down and kissed the little smooth 
head of the petted animal ; but, whether by 
accident or design, his lips brushed Letty's 
fingers as well. 



CHAPTER XIII. 

THE farmer's son. 

It seems almost needless to explain that the 
doubts raised In Rossltur's mind of Lady- 
Judith's fidelity by her own words wqre 
short-lived ; she was right, In every way, 
he argued, to let the blame of their recent 
meetings rest upon him. That they were 
over was what was hard to bear, and it 
seemed to the poor fellow that now there 
was no hope left. It was Impossible for him 
to struggle against the great odds opposed to 
him, and Lady Judith would also have to 
give way before the pressure that would be 
brought to bear upon her. On every side he 
was powerless. Handicapped by what they 



144 ^ GAME OF CHANCE. 

called his plebeian birth, by his want of 
money, and the probability — or rather, the 
certainty — that if he ever became rich and 
prosperous, he would no longer possess his 
present advantages of youth and good looks, 
what could he do ? In a less prosaic age a 
man could carry off the woman he loved, and 
marry her before her friends could Interfere ; 
but such a feat was Impossible when a net- 
work of electric wires intersected the land ! 
And loyal lover though he was, there was still 
deep down In Rossltur's heart the germ of a 
doubt, if the doubt itself did not actually 
exist, that Lady Judith, much as she loved 
him, would not do anything desperate for his 
sake. He was a million times more romantic 
than she. 

But surely there must be some road out of 
the dilemma, the poor fellow thought to him- 
self He could not sit passive and see her 
married to his rival without making some 
effort to secure the happiness that seemed 



THE FARMERS SON. 1 45 

more and more alluring as it was slipping 
from his grasp. 

A few days after his stolen meetings with 
Lady Judith were discovered, he heard from 
his sister that Mr. Milbanke had come back 
from America, and was expected at Stilling- 
fort early the following week. The know- 
ledge that he was so near, and that the 
marriage would now be hastened on, put the 
finishing stroke to the young man's despon- 
dency, and it was with a feeling half of fear 
and half of relief that Alice saw him making 
preparations for a journey. But he was only 
going to London, he said, for a few days. 
He had shown his ignorance of the world 
once in proposing to Lord Stillingfort for his 
daughter, and he was now bent upon a much 
more unconventional and absurd proceeding. 

In the library of a handsome house in 
Grosvenor Square, John Milbanke, the future 
husband of the beautiful Lady Judith Forster, 
was seated, wTiting busily, a few days after 

VOL. 11. L 



146 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

his return from New York. He was a man 
of about fifty, and he looked his age ; his 
hair was turning grey on the temples, there 
were a few crow's feet about his eyes ; and 
the same eyes, although by no means as 
handsome, or as fully endowed with the 
power of passionate and pathetic language 
as those of his rival Charles Rossitur, were 
very sweet and kindly in expression, and 
gave a decided softness and charm to an 
otherwise somewhat stern face. 

In figure he was tall and thin, but not 
ungainly ; he was always well and carefully 
dressed, and he could no more have ventured 
to appear in the picturesque garments that so 
well became the handsome young musician of 
Stillingfort, than he could venture to attempt 
to fiy through the air from London to Stone- 
shire. His voice, in speaking, was strong 
and melodious, and something in the clasp of 
his strong firm hand gave confidence In his 
sincerity and warmth of heart. Apart from 



THE FARMERS SON. 1 47 

his great wealth there was much in the man 
that was attractive in many respects, but he 
had a shrewd suspicion that but for his money 
Lady Judith would not have accepted his 
hand. This thought gave him intense pain 
when he allowed himself to dwell upon it, for 
she had inspired him with the first great 
passion of his life. 

His first marriage had been one of con- 
venience solely, and he had lived a lonely, 
conventional life ; but now that middle age 
was past, and that by his wealth he could 
make life attractive and luxurious to the 
woman he loved, he longed to take to 
himself this girl whose beauty was more 
adorable in his eyes than the gold for 
which he had toiled so long. 

He had before him now a letter from her 
father urging his immediate presence at Stil- 
lingfort ; he was not disquieted by anything 
this epistle contained, and yet it left on his 
mind an impression that in his case, the 



148 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

proverbial delay would be dangerous indeed. 
With it had come a gay, prettily-worded, 
little billet from Judith herself. He had read 
it a dozen times at least without being able 
to make out whether the writer was jesting 
or in earnest, and he was in the act of laying 
down his pen in order to try once more, 
when a servant came in and presented a 
card. 

" What is it, Campbell T he said. '' I am 
very busy this morning." 

"A gentleman wishes to see you on 
business, sir. He says you do not know 
his name." 

" Stay — what is it ? Rossitur — never 
heard of him. Show him in ;" and in a few 
moments he had risen to greet courteously 
his unknown visitor. 

" Pray sit down, Mr. Rossitur," he said, in 
his kindly, affable way. " I have not the 
pleasure of knowing your name, but if I can 
do anything for you " 



THE FARMERS SON. 1 49 

Rossitur looked at him curiously, and the 
result of his investigation was not satisfactory. 
This man was not a mere agglomeration of 
money bags ; the woman who had chosen 
him need not be ashamed of her choice, and 
not even when he stood pleading with Judith's 
father did his cause seem as hopeless as now 
that he was face to face with the man she had 
promised to marry ! He laughed to himself 
as he mentally contrasted the homely room 
in his father's house at Stillingfort in which 
his work was done — the only spot on earth 
he could call his own — with this exquisitely- 
fitted and furnished chamber! And what 
was he to say now that he was here ? Where 
were all the fine words wherewith he had 
meant to convince this man that he had no 
right to come between him and his love ? 
Apparently, there was not one of them left 
upon his tongue. 

He was not really many minutes silent 
while these thoughts were passing through 



150 . A GAME OF CHANCE. 

his mind ; and while Milbanke waited for his 
unknown visitor to speak he watched him 
curiously. How handsome he was, and how 
young ! And how gladly the middle-aged 
millionaire would have given some thousands 
if, by the sacrifice, he could have gained 
even a little of the grace and vigour of that 
supple and nobly-proportioned form ! 

Rossitur at length raised his eyes and 
spoke. " Before I came here," he said, " I 
thought you could do a great deal for me ; 
now I do not think you can help me at 
all, or rather, I do not think you will help 
me. 

*' I am sorry to hear I look so implacable, 
or so ungenerous, or disagreeable." Mr. 
Milbanke began to think that his handsome 
visitor was a little eccentric, to say the least 
of it. ''As I said before, I have not the 
pleasure of knowing you, but if I can help 
you it will give me pleasure to do so. Pray 
command me." 



THE FARMER S SON. I 5 I 

Rossltur laughed. '' I am obliged to you," 
he said — then, after a pause, he added, 
"Perhaps the best introduction I can give 
is to tell you that I live at Stillingfort." 
Milbanke's surprise showed on his face. " I 
am the son of a tenant farmer on Lord 
Stillingfort's estate, and I am organist of 
the parish church." Then came a longer 
pause. '' I am a farmer's son," Rossitur 
repeated, "and an organist ; and I have been 
mad enough to fall in love with Lady Judith 
Forster, his lordship's only daughter. Now, 
Mr. Milbanke, do you know what I have 
come to you for ?" 

Milbanke, with his elbow on the writing- 
table, was biting the end of his long quill 
pen ; his eyes were on the letter he had been 
writing. "That is not so very strange, is it .'^ 
That you have fallen in love with her, I 
mean," he said. He began to think that his 
visitor was not merely eccentric, but mad. 

" Then you do not blame me .^" the young 



152 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

man cried. " You do not think I am pre- 
sumptuous ?" 

'' Pardon me — I did not say so." 
'' I am told," Rossitur went on, ''that you 
want to marry her, and what chance have I 
agamst your riches ? I can give her nothing 
but love ; but I thought if you were but 
generous and unselfish you would not stand 
in the way of our happiness. Is it too much 
to ask, sir ? Are we poor men to have 
nothing because we are too poor to buy ? 
She would marry me — I know she would 
if you would give her up." 

The words grated sorely on Milbanke's 
ears. Was it possible that the girl he loved 
favoured this man — that he was in truth her 
accepted lover ? But no ; she was too proud 
to listen to such as he, and this wild talk 
meant nothing ; it would be absurd to pay 
any heed to it. He must just humour the 
poor fellow, and get rid of him as soon as 
possible. 



THE FARMERS SON. 1 53 

'' Mr. Rossltur," he said, " I am sure 
you will believe me when I tell you that, if I 
thought you had any reason for supposing 
that Lady Judith Forster was attached to you 
and anxious to become your wife, I should at 
once resign my claim to her hand ; but, 
and I beg of you to excuse me for speaking 
plainly, I think you have deluded yourself. 
She has consented of her own free will 
to become my wife, and until she releases 
me I do not mean to give her up to any 
man." ^ 

" You do not then suppose it possible 
for her to be persuaded into this marriage 
with you because you are rich ? You believe 
she accepts you of her own free will ?" 

Milbanke smiled. " You are very perti- 
nacious, sir, and not very complimentary to 
me. Now, you must excuse me if I put this 
•question beyond all doubt by allowing you to 
read a passage in a letter received by me 
from Lady Judith Forster this morning. I 



154 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

have only fully understood it myself since 
you honoured me with this visit." 

Rossitur took the letter. "You wish me 
to read this ?" he said. 

'* Certainly ; the passage I have marked by 
folding down." 

And he read it through with Milbanke's 
eyes fixed upon his face ; but the meaning of 
the words did not all at once come home 
to him. The writer, in a sort of fable, re- 
lated how, like the heroine of a novel, she 
was beset by the attentions of a handsome 
rustic, who had actually been mad enough 
to propose marriage to her through her 
father. She described how he waylaid her 
in her walks and told all his friends that 
if she were a free agent she would choose 
him for her husband ; she also playfully 
cautioned Milbanke against the jealous rage 
of this disappointed swain, and concluded by 
saying " the poor fellow is very handsome, 
certainly, but he is not a gentleman, and 



THE FARMERS SON. 1 55 

of course, I never gave him any encourage- 
ment." 

It would be Impossible to give any 
adequate Idea of Rossltur's feelings as he 
read this letter through. It stamped him at 
once in his own eyes as the easy dupe of 
a heartless woman's vanity and caprice, and 
her object In writing It was as patent to him 
as his own despised and insulted love. She 
wanted to make herself safe in case any 
rumour of her Intercourse with the " rustic 
lover" should reach Milbanke's ears. Against, 
such double dealing he was powerless ; the 
only letter he had ever received from her was 
destroyed by her desire — he kept it as long as 
he dared — so there was nothing left for him 
but to throw up his cards and acknowledge 
himself beaten ! She had fooled him all 
round ; and to reiterate that, If he had been 
presumptuous, she had led him on, would 
but confirm the assertion made in her letter. 

He gave It back to Mllbanke, and after a 



156 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Struggle of a few seconds to gain command 
over his voice, he said, " I am not, It Is true, 
a gentleman by birth, but I hope I have the 
instincts of one. You meant to silence me, 
and to teach me a lesson, by giving me that 
letter to read, and you have done both most 
effectually. I can but apologise for my In- 
trusion, but before I go, grant me one favour. 
Do not humiliate me further in my own eyes 
by speaking of my visit to — to her." 

"You may depend upon me," Mllbanke 
answered. Then, as If struck by a sudden 
thought, be rose hurriedly, and, laying his 
hand on Rossitur's shoulder, said in a low 
constrained voice, " I am not quite satisfied, 
sir, and Lady Judith's happiness is very dear 
to me. Tell me, as between man and man, 
have you been under a delusion in this matter 
or have you not ?" 

" I have been under a most complete delu- 
sion, except as regards my own feelings," 
Rossitur answered, '' but I am fully per- 



THE FARMERS SON. 1 57 

suaded that Lady Judith's happiness will be 
secured by her marriage with you ; she has 
explained, in a manner not to be mistaken, 
what she thinks of my pretensions, and there 
is no more to be said." 

When his visitor was gone, Milbanke sat 
and pondered long. " I must keep my 
word," he said at last, '' and not mention 
this visit to her ; but I should like to tell 
her that she is mistaken about her ' rustic 
lover.' He is a gentleman." 



CHAPTER XIV. 

MRS. JOHN ERSKINE's LETTER. 

When Herbert Otway went back to London 
after his short visit, a blank and sad interval 
of waiting for news set in at the Chase. 
Having brooded exclusively on his loss for 
a week or more, Sir John naturally began to 
fix his thoughts upon his grandson and the 
young widow, and to plan for their reception 
at their future home. A certain suite of 
rooms must be refurnished for *' poor, dear 
Amy," and within easy reach of them were 
the long unused nurseries in which poor 
Jack and Letty had played as children. 

Someone suggested that Mrs. Erskine 
would probably bring a native nurse over 
with her, but Sir John declared that he 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINE S LETTER. 1 59 

would not have the '* creature " at the Chase. 
*' My grandson must have a respectable 
Englishwoman, not a heathen, to look after 
him," he said. 

Miss Lambton, in her quiet way, wondered 
whether Rossitur, the maid, would come with 
her mistress to England, or remain in India 
with her husband. Nothing was known at 
the Chase about Pottinger at that time. 

'' Poor Jack said in one of his letters, I 

remember," Letty remarked, " that when he 

• 

came home, Pottinger should come with him, 
as he was so clever about horses. Why 
should not Amy keep Rossitur, as she likes 
her so much ? — and Pottinger might leave 
the regiment and be our extra groom. We 
must have a couple more men in the stables 
if papa gives Amy a carriage and horses of 
her own." 

*' I think, dear," said Aunt Louise, " it will 
be better to give up the barouche and the 
greys to Amy, and to let me have a little 



l6o A GAME OF CHANCE. 

basket affair, with a quiet pony that I can 
drive myself." 

"Well, well," cried Sir John, "we can 
settle it all when Mrs. John comes. Perhaps 
she ought to have the barouche and the 
greys ; but I am not at all sure that I want 
that woman Rossitur here. I do not much 
like what I know of her or her people. Her 
father has lived the life of a hermit since his 
wife left him years ago. He is a capital 
farmer and all that, Murray tells me, but no 
one ever sees him ; and then there is that 
son of his — a musical genius, I am told — who 
set his cap at Judith Forster ; but she is 
engaged to Milbanke, the millionaire. I do 
not fancy, myself, having any of the Rossitur 
lot here ; but if we must, we must, I 
suppose." 

As. the days of expectation before the 
arrival of the Indian mail went by, Letty got 
very weary of conversations such as the 
above. It was a matter of indifference to 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINE S LETTER. l6l 

her whether the widow brought a nurse with 
her or not, or whether the famous Rossitur 
continued to act as Amy's maid or remained 
In India. She was prepared to welcome and 
love her sister-ln-law for Jack's sake, and It 
would be a sad pleasure to have his baby 
boy ; but, of course. Amy's presence In the 
house would make a great difference, and It 
was Impossible to tell how she would get on 
with them and they with her. She might be 
a very agreeable Inmate and a pleasant 
addition to their small circle, and she might 
be the very reverse ; but such as she was she 
must be endured and made the best of; 
there was no possibility of escape. 

As Letty made this rather querulous remark 
to herself It flashed across her that there was 
an alternative open to her ; that If the Chase 
became an unhappy, Instead of a happy home, 
she had but to humble herself to the man who 
was her husband, and he would let her have 
her proper place In his home. Humble her- 

VOL. II. M 



1 62 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

self! The word and all that it implied made 
her hot all over. Stoop to ask the man who 
told her he was learning to despise her, to 
assert his rights and give her protection even 
if love were impossible! Never! She knew 
she had acted like a vain, heartless, silly child, 
and put herself beyond the pale of his for- 
giveness, and that if she could but blot out 
the few hours that immediately succeeded 
the marriage ceremony, not only from her 
memory but out of the history of her life, she 
might now be the happiest of women instead 
of the most miserable. 

But effacement was impossible ; and, in- 
deed, it seemed as if every day her remem- 
brance of all she had said and done during 
the drive to Richmond, and after, grew 
sharper and clearer every day. No wonder 
he was changed ; treatment less odious and 
unwomanly might well have turned a man's 
love to gall. But how amply he was avenged 
had he but known it ! She had wilfully 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINE's LETTER. 1 6 



O 



blinded herself as long as she could, but 
even before their late unsatisfactory and 
most awkward meeting, she knew it was only 
by lashing her pride into activity, by recall- 
ing the words, '* I despise you," that she was 
able to keep the love she now felt for him 
within reasonable bounds. 

At last the long expected Indian letter 
arrived ; it was the short epistle written, 
as the reader knows, by Rossitur for her 
mistress, to catch the mail that left the day 
but one after poor Jack Erskine's death. 
Sir John was very much pleased with it, 
short though it was, and he read it to his 
friend. Dr. Murray, with tears in his eyes. 

" The poor dear girl is quite broken- 
hearted ; anyone can see that," he said. 

A much longer letter arrived the follow- 
ing week. Lying on a couch, dressed in a 
loose white tea-gown, with her beautiful hair 
streaming about her, and Victor de Louvain's 
lately received, kind letter of condolence 



164 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

servlne as a marker in the half-read novel 
that lay near her hand, Amy Erskine had 
dictated that letter to Rossitur, and Rossitur 
wrote it fluently. That she did not adhere 
strictly to the dictated words was a matter 
of no moment, for her power of expressing 
thoughts in language far exceeded that of her 
mistress, and Amy never asked to see the 
letters when they were finished. 

This particular letter of course contained 
details of the accident. " My poor darling" 
— this was what they read at the Chase, and 
the father, aunt and sister got lumps in their 
throats as one read aloud and the others 
listened ; they were so pleased, although 
so pained, to hear everything that had 
been said and done by '' poor dear Jack," 
just before he died — ''my poor darling came 
back to luncheon with three or four men that 
dreadful, DREADFUL day,"— Rossitur put 
the second "dreadful" in capital letters her 
mistress laid such emphasis on it — " and 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINE's LETTER. 1 65 

he was in such good spirits, and looked so 

bright and handsome." — ''And how you and 

he wrangled," thought Rossitur — *' We had 

such a merry luncheon, and he scolded me, 

in fun, you know, because I would not go 

to the polo ground. Just think how awful it 

would have been if I had been there ! It 

would have killed me to see him fall ! I 

know it would. It was poor Pottinger who 

brought home the news ; but a friend of 

mine who happened to be here stopped 

• 
him before he saw me, for, unfortunately, the 

poor faithful fellow was quite out of his mindi 

It was all most terrible ! First to see my 

precious Jack brought home to me dead, and 

to know that I had lost him, and that our 

darling boy was an orphan ! Then poor 

Pottinger — he is the husband, you know, 

of my faithful Rossitur — he went quite mad 

that night, and they took him away next day, 

and by this, I believe, he is on his way to 

England to be put into a lunatic asylum. 



1 66 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

I do hope the poor dear fellow will get 
all right again. My excellent Rossltur and 
her little boy — he Is just a month older than 
my one solace — are with me here, of course ; 
and as soon as I hear from you, dear Sir 
John, I shall make my plans. In your kind 
telegram you say ' come home at once,' and 
it is my most fervent desire to get to England 
quickly, and to put darling Jack's boy into 
your arms ; but I do not feel equal to the 
long, lonely journey just yet ; and I very 
much cjread an English winter. Is Stone- 
shire very cold? I think sometimes I should 
like -on my arrival to go to the South of 
France, or to Sorrento, near Naples — I have 
long desired to see Italy — live quietly 
through the long, sad winter and then go 
to the dear Chase — my darling so often 
described his beautiful home to me — In 
spring, when the east winds are over. This 
plan may not meet with your approval, but of 
course I should like as much as possible 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINES LETTER. T67 

to be guided by you. I know what my 
precious husband would say If he were aHve. 
He would say, " By all means, my darling, 
winter at Sorrento^' but I feel that you, 
being his father, have a sort of right to 
dictate to me what I am to do, and where 
I am to go. I shall, however, manage to see 
something of Italy on my way home, as 
I may never have another opportunity." 

'' Poor darling ! Poor child ! How feel- 
ingly she writes !" said Sir John, as he wiped 
his eyes. She really bears up wonderfully ; 
but, of course, she knows It is her dqty for 
the sake of my grandson. And that poor 
man, Pottinger, out of his mind ! Dear me ! 
Dear me ! That is very shocking. And 
poor Amy will be hampered with his child as 
well as her own until she gets to England." 

" She seems quite as devoted to Rossitur 
as ever," said Letty. 

'* And what do you think of her project of 
wintering In France or Italy ?" asked Miss 



1 68 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Lambton. " I am sure Stoneshire ought to 
be warm enough for anyone." 

" Oh, it is preposterous !" cried Sir John. 
" I cannot allow it. If she feels the cold she 
must buy a lot of furs and wrap up warm. I 
do not want the child to be taken to any of 
those ill-drained, smelly places. I must write 
at once and tell her I cannot allow it. She 
says she will be guided by me." 

" I hope she will," Letty said to herself. 
She was not as favourably impressed by the 
tone of her sister-in-law's letter as Sir John, 
and she was angry with herself for being so 
critical. 

It so happened, however, that something 
occurred in connection with the letter which 
made her dislike it even more than she did 
at first. 



CHAPTER XV. 

LOVE AND PRIDE. 

*' I WISH papa had not asked me to send 
it," Letty said to herself. "He ought to 
remember how awkward it is for me to write 
to him ! I do not know what to say, and I 
must say something. I cannot put it in an 
envelope and send it without a word, and if 
I make a fuss about it papa will be angry." 

The ''it" in question was Mrs. John 
Erskine's letter, which Sir John had desired 
his daughter to send on to Otway to read, 
with a request that he would return it. 

'' She is a kind of relation of his, you 
know," Sir John said, ''and it will interest 
him to hear all about my poor boy's death ; 
and I want to know what he has to say about 



170 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Amy's plan — you can tell him I totally dis- 
approve of it — of wintering abroad. As if 
we hadn't as fine a climate as any in the 
world. I am quite sure winter never lasts 
more than six or seven months in Stone- 
shire, and it is generally fine, open weather, 
when the scent lies and a man comes home 
well-splashed after his day's hunting. And if 
there is any hard frost look at our skating. 
What is there in those stinking foreign places 
to make up for our hunting and skating ? 
You send on that letter at once, Letty, and 
let me hear what Otway has to say." 

And Letty took the letter without demur. 
It was not until she sat down to carry 
out her father's wishes that she found how 
difficult it was to perform a very simple task. 

** Dear Mr. Otway," she began, "papa 
wishes you to read the enclosed letter from 
Amy — my sister-in-law. It came by last 
mail. You will see all she says about poor 
dear Jack. I wish she had told us a little 



LOVE AND PRIDE. IJl 

more. Please return the letter, but there is 
no hurry about It. Papa wants to know 
what you think of Amy's plan of wintering 
abroad ; he does not like the idea at all, and 
wishes her to come home at once. 

" Believe me " 

She got so far and stopped short ; how 
should she wind up her note, and how sign 
herself? She was not Letty Erskine, and 
she could not bring herself to put Letty 
Otway ; '' Letty" without any surname was 
too friendly and familiar ; and, besides, that 
was the way she had always signed her 
letters during her engagement. Many and 
many time had she written ''Always your 
own Letty," or "Your most affectionate 
Letty !" 

Was it possible that she had ever thus 
subscribed herself to him } And what mad- 
ness had come over her on that most 
wretched day ? It must have been madness. 
No sane woman could have behaved as she 



172 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

had done. And in her misconception of 
Otway's character how utterly wrong she had 
been in her forecast of his action in the affair. 
She had imagined herself yielding slowly to 
his prayers and entreaties, and growing more 
and more tolerant of his never ending 
adulation of her many perfections. And lo ! 
she had wounded him with a blow so sharp 
and cruel that he had turned upon her and 
proved that the ardent, devoted lover was a 
man with a will as strong and pride as un- 
bending as her own. 

'* ' Believe me ' What am I to say ? I 

know what he believes me to be — a heart- 
less, unwomanly little wretch, who played 
with him for her own amusement ; stole his 
love, and then flung it in his face. That is 
what he believes me to be. If I were to 
write, ' Believe me to be your own, loving, 
sorry, ashamed, repentant and broken-hearted 
wife^ it would be the truth." She wrote the 
words as fast as her pen could move, at the 



LOVE AND PRIDE. 1 73 

end of the note and then looked at them 
with tears blinding her eyes. 

'* Now I have spoiled that and I must 
write another," she said, presently. '' What 
a goose I am !" She took a second sheet, 
copied out what she had already written, 
and again stopped short at the " Believe 
me." '' I am just as much puzzled as before !" 
she said, and thrusting both the notes out of 
sight into the leaves of her blotting-book, 
she took a third sheet and wrote as follows 
without any formal beginning or end — ''Papa* 
wishes me to send you the enclosed, which 
please return when you have quite done with 
it. It is from my sister-in-law. Papa wants 
to know what you think of her plan of 
wintering abroad. He does not approve of 
It. 

''There; that will do capitally!" she said, 
as she finished. " Why did I not think of 
that before ? What have I done with the 
other stupid notes ? I must take care not 



174 ^ GAME OF CHANCE. 

to put one of them — the one, up in mistake. 
I think I got out of my difficulty very 
cleverly. I wonder if he will send an 
answer, and how he will sign himself.'^" 

On the second morning the answer came ; 
and Letty's cheeks tingled with mortification 
and disappointment, and a little anger as 
well, as she read — " Mr. Herbert Otway 
presents his compliments to Mrs. Herbert 
Otway, and begs that she will thank Sir 
John for so kindly sending him Mrs. John 
Erskine's letter. It is herewith returned. 
Mr. Otway does not see anything to object 
to in Mrs. John Erskine's desire to winter 
abroad." 

'' Mr. Otway sees nothing against Amy's 
plan of wintering abroad, papa, and he is 
very much obliged to you for letting him see 
her letter." 

" He sees nothing against it ? Well, / see 
everything ; you had a letter from Otway, 
then — what does he say ?" 



LOVE AND PRIDE. I75 

*' Nothing but what I told you just now ; 
he wrote just a few Hnes." 

" I thought he had too much sense to 
advocate that richculous fad of wintering at 
Sorrento ; but I have written to tell her what 
I think, and I expect that she will be guided 
by me and come home at once. I must 
really stir them up about her rooms or they 
will not be ready in time." 

It had given Otway quite as much trouble 
to frame a reply to Letty as it had given 
Letty in the first place to write to him. If 
is unfortunate in some cases that we have 
no better grounds for the formation of our 
judgments than what is actually before us. 
Otway had no possible means of knowing 
that Letty had spent more than an hour 
trying to write what she considered a 
proper letter to him before she concocted 
the business-like epistle, which might have 
been addressed to a tradesman with an 
order for some goods ; and when she read 



176 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

his business-like reply it never occurred to 
her that he had dashed off a much more 
elaborate letter, wherein, when he had com- 
mented briefly upon Mrs. John Erskine's 
Indian budget, he gave the news of the day 
in a light and agreeable fashion. Otway 
had a facile pen, and it pleased him to use 
it for Letty's benefit. 

Yet as soon as the letter was finished he 
tore it up in such a determined manner that 
it seemed as if he were venting a fit of anger 
upon the unoffending paper. 

'* She will probably look upon it as an 
impertinence if I write to her in that way," 
he said ; and then he wrote the formal note 
in the third person which caused poor Letty 
such bitter disappointment. 

He was engaged that very day to dine 
at Richmond with his old acquaintances, 
Mrs. Ogilvey and her husband ; it was to be 
a farewell party, made up of the people he 
was accustomed to meet at Queen's Gate 



LOVE AND PRIDE. I 77 

Terrace, and before he got back to town 
he would be called upon to decide whether to 
go with the Ogilveys in their yacht for a 
cruise to Norway or by himself to the Black 
Forest. 

Mr. Ogilvey had taken a great fancy to 
him ; and, although Otway was not specially 
drawn to him, or prepared to look upon him 
as an intimate friend, he could not, without 
positive rudeness, refuse the hospitality so 
perpetually offered to him ; and, by degrees, 
he found that he spent more time with* 
him and his wife than he did with other and 
older friends. 

Mrs. Ogilvey never alluded to the secret 
she had entrusted to him when her acquain- 
tance with him was renewed in the early days 
of his engagement to Letty Erskine, and the 
affair was, of course, sacred to him. He was 
glad to see that there was apparently perfect 
accord between the husband and wife, and 
when, after the manner of women, Mrs. 

VOL. IL N 



178 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Ogllvey found out all about his sudden 
separation from his bride, he could not refuse 
the sympathy so abundantly lavished upon 
him. But It was never agreeable to him to 
hear Letty blamed, yet, as he had assumed 
the role of the outraged and unforgiving one, 
he could not consistently break out In her 
defence. 

Mrs. Ogllvey went very cautiously and 
subtly to work to try and persuade him 
— always for Letty's sake — to have the 
marriage declared null and void ; and sorely 
against his wish Otway, as he replied to her 
arguments, was obliged to admit that, sooner 
or later, the only way out of a difficulty not 
created by him would be to set his wife 
legally free. 

Mrs. Ogllvey had no clearly defined object 
in wishing to bring about this separation, but 
nevertheless, she wished It with all her heart. 
She could not marry Otway herself, and 
there was no one to whom she was anxious 



LOVE AND PRIDE. 1 79 

to see him married, but she fancied that he 
would be more absolutely her friend if the tie 
that bound him to Letty was broken, and 
she could not endure the thought that he was 
still attached to her. 

Her chance of success would have been 
even less than It was could he have had even 
a passing glimpse of one of the letters Letty 
had hidden away In her blotting - book. 
What a revelation and revolution there would 

have been could he have read the words 

• 

'' your own loving, sorry, ashamed, repentant 
and broken-hearted wife, Letty," If only she 
had — as so often happens In books, and so 
rarely In real life — slipped the wrong letter 
into the envelope, and so have let It reach 
him unawares. By the very next train he 
would have started for Little Centre Bridge, 
and, without waiting for the useless formality 
of an explanation, have clasped the repentant 
girl In his arms and sealed their reconciliation 
with a hundred kisses. 



l8o A GAME OF CHANCE. 

But, all unknown to him, the letter that 
would have worked such wonders lay between 
the leaves of the blotter, and Letty herself 
forgot that she had not destroyed it. 

Otway was in the act of dressing for the 
Richmond dinner when a telegram was put 
into his hand. It w^as from Mrs. Ogilvey, 
and contained bad news — '' My husband is 
taken suddenly and dangerously ill. Come 
at once. He has asked for you." 

Before the end of the week Otway was 
standing beside Mr. Ogilvey's grave in 
Kensal Green, and under the dead man s 
will he was appointed one of the executors, 
and trustee also for the widow, to whom, 
under certain conditions, the husband had 
left the whole of his immense wealth. 



CHAPTER XVI. 

THE MEETING IN THE PORCH. 

Charles Rossitur went back to Stilllngfort 
an altered man. Disappointed love, the 
impotent rage of jealousy and shame at his 
own weakness, were fighting a pitched battle 
within him, and these foes of equal pow^ei* 
had no chance, the one against the other. 
But as the contest waxed and waned, love 
first gave way. It stung the poor young 
fellow to the quick to know that the woman 
he worshipped had simply stooped for a while 
to his level merely to mock him. That 
with his kisses warm upon her lips she could 
calmly hold him up to the ridicule of the man 
she meant to marry ! 

It was only by degrees that the utter base- 



1 82 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

ness of her conduct came home to him. How 
certain she was that Milbanke would take 
her explanation as the true one should any 
hint of her Intimacy with the organist come 
to his ears ; and If she had known that 
Rossltur contemplated the folly of a visit to 
his rival she could not have laid her plans 
more craftily to checkmate him. 

To tell the truth, Lady Judith was driven 
to her last refuge when Lord Stilllngfort 
suddenly appeared before her and Rossltur 
in Warleigh Copse, and took her away with- 
out allowing her even one word of farewell ; 
she knew then that she must make her choice 
between love and Mammon, and abide by 
it. As a matter of fact she had already 
chosen, but she wanted to keep her hand- 
some, romantic lover with her as long as 
possible, unmindful of the anguish he might 
suffer when at last it dawned upon him that 
she did not mean to throw Milbanke over. 

Her father put the risk she was running 



THE MEETING IN THE PORCH. 1 83 

before her in very plain language. " If you 
loved this low-born fellow well enough to 
marry him, I could find it in my heart to 
forgive you," he said, " but you know you 
do not. You admire his handsome face — • 
you like to show your power over him, but 
if I were to say to you now, ' Marry him,' 
you would not do it." And then he made 
her give him a solemn promise, from that 
moment, to hold no more intercourse with 
him. 

And she gave the promise with the 
intention of keeping it, but she could not 
understand why Rossitur himself made no 
attempt to see her. She had neither heard 
from him nor seen him, even by accident, 
from the moment she left him standing alone 
in Warleigh Copse ; he was at home, she 
knew, for amongst a hundred players she 
could recognise his touch upon the organ 
at morning service, and never had the 
exquisite aria, " He shall feed his flock," 



1 84 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

played by him as the congregation left the 
church on the Sunday after their last meeting, 
thrilled and saddened her as it did that day. 
Was it because he had taught it to her, 
and many and many a time played it to 
her himself in those never-to-be-forgotten 
first days of their acquaintance ? 

He was never happy now, poor fellow, 
unless when seated at the organ. With his 
fingers on the keys he felt the equal of the 
best blood in England ; and yet his beloved 
art had lost much of its power to calm and 
heal the perturbed and sorely bruised spirit 
within him, and his sister Alice, and one 
other — a woman also — -watched him with sad 
and anxious eyes. 

Milbanke arrived at the Park some two 
or three days after his strange interview 
with Rossitur ; he and Lady Judith were 
to be seen together constantly, and it was 
rumoured that he was pressing for an early 
marriage. All her uneasiness had vanished ; 



THE MEETING IN THE PORCH. 1 85 

Milbanke was the most generous and devoted 
of lovers ; and if she sometimes gave a sigh 
of regret in secret for the man who in all 
save birth and wealth, was an ideal husband, 
no one could have imagined from her man- 
ner to her future possessor that there was a 
thought of her heart unshared by him. 

The news had come to Stilllngfort of the 
sad tragedy at Simla. Bella Rossitur, or 
Mrs. Pottinger, as she was naturally called in 
her native village, wrote a detailed account of 
Captain Erskine's death, and described the 
sudden insanity of her own husband, with the 
zest of one to whom the narration of dis- 
agreeable news is more or less a pleasant 
occupation. 

'' Bella was never troubled with much 
feeling," her brother observed, when Alice 
read the letter aloud to him. " Unfortunate 
George Pottinger might be a complete 
stranger to her instead of her husband and 
the father of her child, to judge by the way 



1 86 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

she writes of him. Poor old George ! How 
bewitched he was about her !" and Rossitur 
sighed. But he often sighed now. 

Presently he grew excited and angry as his 
sister went on reading the letter. " I have 
been expecting to hear great news about 
Charles and her young ladyship," Mrs. 
Pottinger wrote. " Does he still give her 
lessons on the organ, and what chance has 
he of marrying her .^" 

" How dare you gossip to Bella about me 
and Lady Judith ?" Rossitur interrupted, 
sternly. " Do you not know that she has no 
respect for the feelings of anyone belonging 
to her, and that it would delight her mis- 
chievous spirit to hear that I had been dis- 
appointed and made a fool of ? There ! Do 
not read any more for me. Perhaps the next 
news she hears of her unhappy brother will 
startle her more than the news of his 
marriage to the earl's daughter would have 
done." 



THE MEETING IN THE PORCH. 1 8/ 

He went to the house door, which was 
always open in fine weather, and stood there 
looking out in the direction, of Stillingfort 
Woods. " How beautiful they are," he 
thought, ''and what madly happy moments 
I have spent in them. And they will look 
as beautiful when she is married and I am 
— gone." 

The sound of trotting horses along the 
high road that led past the farm caught 
his ears; he turned and saw a lady and 
gentleman approaching with two grooms jn 
attendance. The lady was Lady Judith ; 
the gentleman, Milbanke. They were going 
at a rapid pace, and now and then they 
exchanged a gay remark. 

She looked well in the saddle, and sat her 
horse to perfection ; he looked to less ad- 
vantage, and Rossitur, who had ridden the 
roughest and wildest of horses from his 
boyhood, smiled, half with pity and half 
with derision, as he looked at his rival's 



1 88 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

ungainly seat and awkward grasp of the 
reins. 

It was impossible for the riders to go past 
the house without noticing the young man, 
who was leaning in dejection against the 
door-post ; but whether they saw him or not, 
there was no recognition. His eyes followed 
Lady Judith ; the sight of her may have 
given him both pleasure and pain ; it is 
impossible to say which he felt most keenly, 
for the smile raised by the horsemanship of 
her companion did not leave his lips. 

About fifty yards from the house there was 
a gate which opened Into a field, and over the 
gate there was a white-faced cow solemnly 
staring. Mllbanke's horse caught sight of 
what seemed to him a horrible apparition, 
and swerving aside with a sudden jerk, for 
which the rider was wholly unprepared. It 
rose on Its hind legs, and after a struggle to 
right itself, fell back, and lay kicking and 
plunging on the road. 



THE MEETING IN THE PORCH. 1 89 

With a loud scream for help Lady Judith 
sprang from her horse. She had but recently 
heard of the death of young John Erskine 
by a fall from his pony at polo, and how 
terrible it would be if the tragedy of his sad 
death were to be repeated now. 

Ere her trembling limbs could carry her to 
the spot where her companion was lying, the 
horse was on its legs again, and Charles 
Rossitur was on his knees beside the sense- 
less Milbanke. Not a word was spoken as 
he made a rapid examination, and before ^t 
was over, his sister and several of the farm 
servants came running up. 

" Is he — is he dead ?" Judith managed to 
gasp out at last ; and either unconsciously, or 
to give emphasis to her words, she laid her 
hand on Rossitur's shoulder. 

He shivered as he felt the touch ! When 
last her hand was laid there he was allowed 
to clasp it in his own — to press it to his 
lips, and to gaze unchecked into the glorious 



190 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

eyes that were now fixed in horror upon 
Mllbanke's pale and blood-stained face. 

" You need not be alarmed, Lady Judith," 
Rossitur answered, quietly ; but he could not 
wholly conquer the tremor in his voice. '' He 
is not dead ; not even seriously hurt, I hope. 
He fell on a sharp stone, and the blood you 
see is from the cut ; but I am afraid his leg 
is broken just below the knee by a kick from 
the horse as it was struggling to get up. 
May I send one of your grooms for the 
doctor ? And Alice," addressing his sister, 
"get me some brandy." 

But the stimulant restored only temporary 
consciousness to the sufferer. At the first 
attempt to move him he fainted again, and 
then Rossitur declared that it would not be 
safe to take him to the Park. 

" Our house is quite at his service and at 
yours. Lady Judith," he said, in answer to 
her faint remonstrances, as he helped his 
men to place Milbanke on the hurdles that 



THE MEETING IN THE PORCH. I9I 

were brought. ''It Is only a poor place, as 
you know, but we can make him com- 
fortable." 

She acquiesced in silence ; neither did 
she make any remonstrance when Rossltur 
despatched a man on horseback to counter- 
mand the carriage that had already been 
ordered from the Park. 

Very quickly and quietly Milbanke was 
conveyed to the farm, and then it seemed to 
Lady Judith that everyone had forgotten her. 
Left alone outside she wondered what she 
ought to do . She could not make up her 
mind to go away, and yet she seemed out 
of place there ; for although no one had a 
better right than she to be with Milbanke, 
she had not the courage to take her place 
beside him as long as he was under the roof 
of, and befriended In his time of need by, the 
man she had so cruelly wronged. 

Half-an-hour passed, and still she waited ; 
the doctor drove up In a hurry and disap- 



192 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

peared into the house, and she began to feel 
at last so faint and weary that she went into 
the rose-covered porch, and, taking off her 
hat, she leaned against the wall and closed 
her eyes. 

Was it really anxiety for her future 
husband that made her heart beat so loudly ; 
that brought the colour alternately rushing 
to and fading from her cheeks, and kept her 
from going quietly home to wait there for the 
next news? As the minutes passed and no 
one came to her she felt oppressed and 
humiliated by the neglect, which was after 
all not unnatural under the circumstances. 
She grew calmer by degrees as she sat in 
the porch with her eyes closed. She forgot 
to wonder what was going on inside the 
house ; forgot her desire for notice and 
attention of some kind, and lulled at last 
by the stillness she fell into a sort of doze. 

And it was thus Rossitur found her when 
he came out to tell her that the broken leg 



THE MEETING IN THE PORCH. 1 93 

was set, and the patient once more conscious, 
although he had not yet spoken. But she 
did not hear the step, and on seeing her 
seated there with closed eyes and the 
slightly-parted, rich red lips, the only sign 
of life as it were in her face, he stopped 
short, and for a few seconds the love he was 
striving with all his might to tear out of his 
heart overmastered him, and he involuntarily 
uttered her name aloud. 

She started and looked at him, but her 
self-control was perfect. " Oh, Mr. Rossitur,-" 
she said, " how you frightened me. I am 
waiting here for some news. How is he ? 
Is there any danger.^ I know you will tell 
me the truth." 

He looked at her for a moment or two 
with a curious, steadfast gaze ; then he said, 
very quietly, *' I am glad nothing has 
happened to shake your trust in me, Lady 
Judith. You need not be anxious about Mr. 
Milbanke. He is not in the slightest danger 

VOL. II. o 



194 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

as the simple fracture of his leg is his most 
dangerous hurt." 

" Will you not shake hands and let me 
thank you ?" she cried, impulsively, as she saw 
that he was about to leave her again alone. 
''Why should there be this estrangement? 
Mr. Milbanke will " 

She stopped suddenly, and her out- 
stretched hand fell to her side. Rossitur had 
not taken it. '' Pardon me, Lady Judith," he 
said, " but I desire no thanks from either you 
or Mr. Milbanke. I did no more for him 
than I should have done for any of our farm 
labourers in the same state. As to estrange- 
ment," and he gave a little laugh, '' I do not 
know what you mean. I have simply fallen 
again into my proper place, and I do think 
I shall never touch your hand again." 

He went past her through the porch as he 
spoke, and, turning round the angle of the 
house, he disappeared and she saw him no 
more. 



CHAPTER XVII. 

A TERRIBLE TEMPTATION. 

'' And you refuse to accept any favour at 
my hands ? I am very sorry — very much 
grieved and disappointed, I assure you." 

The speaker was Mr. Milbanke, now 
quite recovered from the effects of his 
accident, and it was Charles Rossitur whom 
he addressed. It was Milbanke's last day at 
the farm ; the carriage was expected every 
moment to take him to the Park, and he had 
sent for his young host in order to make him 
an offer which he had been considering in 
his own mind for some time past. 

It was a handsome and liberal offer, 
but Rossitur refused it without a moment's 
hesitation. 



196 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Mllbanke, who had recently purchased a 
princely estate and picturesque old house 
In Dashshire, and had built and endowed a 
handsome church to meet the urgent needs of 
a rapidly increasing neighbourhood, offered 
Rossitur the post of organist and choir- 
master, with a salary of three hundred a 
year and a furnished house rent free. 

*' It is one of the prettiest houses on the 
estate," Milbanke said, '/ and I could very 
easily have one of the rooms enlarged so 
as to take in a chamber - organ if you 
wish " 

'' You are very kind — very generous," 
Rossitur had said, *'but I cannot accept any- 
thing from you. A few shillings to the farm 
labourers who carried you here after the 
accident is quite enough ; but if you feel 
heavily in our debt, and wish to discharge 
your obligation, send my sister a new- 
fashioned churn for her dairy — she is fond of 
new things — or our father that newly- 



A TERRIBLE TExMPTATION. 1 97 

invented chaff-cutter he has set his heart 
upon." 

*' I have already ordered it for him, and I 
shall add the churn for your sister. Also, 
pray take this note and divide it among the 
men as you see fit." He gave Rossitur five 
pounds as he spoke, and then added, '' But it 
is for yourself I wish to do something. Are 
you so wedded to this place that you cannot 
bear to leave it ?" 

" By no means. I have made up my mind 
to go away." ^ 

" May I ask where ?" 

" That I cannot tell you, for I do not know 
myself ; but it will be to some place a long 
way off" There was a strange look in his 
eyes as he spoke, but Milbanke did not 
notice it. 

" Then I suppose there is no more to be 
said," he answered, *' and I am very much 
disappointed. I had set my heart upon 
having you at my new church. You will 



igS A GAME OF CHANCE. 

have everything your own way there, re- 
member." 

'* Mr. Mllbanke," Rossitur interrupted, 
** why do you make this offer to me ? You 
have never alluded to — and I am grateful to 
you for ignoring, my folly — our interview at 
your house in town ; but at the same time 
you cannot have forgotten what I told you 
then." 

" Why allude to it now ?" Milbanke 
answered, with a touch of impatience in 
his tone. '' Foolish things are better for- 
gotten, are they not ?'' 

" Yes ; but you must remember that I told 
you I loved the lady you are about to marry ; 
and why you should go out of your way 
to throw me into hers, is what I cannot 
understand." 

Milbanke's colour perceptibly rose. " I 
do it," he said, " because I wish to prove 
to you how little importance I attach to your 
confession for love to Lady Judith Forsten 



A TERRIBLE TEMPTATION. 1 99 

There is nothing between you and her, and 
there never has been anything. That you 
admired her and that she noticed your 
admiration is natural enough ; but what of 
that ?" 

Rossitur was silent. It was perfectly 
evident that Lady Judith had successfully 
thrown dust in Milbanke's eyes, and the 
man she had first befooled was too generous 
to betray her. " She has played her cards 
well," he said rather bitterly to himself, "and 
it is a pity she should not enjoy her winnings. 
If I were malicious I could snatch them all 
from her ; but she seems to know pretty well 
that she is safe. She has not even asked me 
not to betray her ; but perhaps it is best." 
And yet, in spite of his philosophy, his com- 
panion's words, *' but what of that ?'' were not 
pleasant to hear. 

He saw that Milbanke was expecting an 
answer of some kind, so at last he spoke. 
*' It was very absurd on my part, sir," he 



200 A gamp: of chance. 

said, "to expect you to look with anything 
but ridicule at my folly and presumption. I 
had no right to raise my eyes to Lady Judith 
Forster ; but I hold the cure of my folly In 
my own hands, and perhaps I shall use It — 
who knows ? Now, allow me to thank you 
once more and, believe me, I do so most 
sincerely, for the offer you have made me, 
and I am sorry that I cannot accept It. Here 
is the carriage ; let me give you my arm." 

" If you think better of It by and by, you 
have only to let me know," were Mllbanke's 
last words as he drove off He was thankful 
for his recovery, and for release from his 
confinement ; satisfied with himself, also, for 
his generosity to the "farmer's son," and 
radiant with delight at the thought that in a 
week from that day Lady Judith would be 
his wife. 

" How admirably she must have behaved," 
he said to himself, as the carriage that was 
taking him back to her turned in at the Park 



A TERRIBLE TEMPTATION. 20I 

gates. ** And how difficult It must have been 
to show that very touchy young man how 
presumptuous he was to aspire to her, with- 
out hurting his feehngs. But Judith has 
good sense and admirable tact." 

That same evening one of Lord Stllllng- 
fort's footmen delivered a note at the farm. 
It was addressed In Lady Judith's writing to 
" C. Rossltur, Junior." Time was when to 
get a note from her made his heart leap for 
joy. Now he took It and opened It quietly 
enough. It was very short. *' Dear Mti. 
RossiTUR," It ran, " Can you come over early 
to-morrow, say twelve o'clock ? I want to 
see you on business. Please ask for me. 
Sincerely yours, J. F." 

Punctually at twelve the following day he 
was shown Into a pretty morning-room, and 
he found there, apparently waiting for him, 
Lady Judith and Mr. Mllbanke. ''What 
•does all this mean ?" he thought to himself ; 
but he fancied he knew. 



202 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Milbanke rose and shook hands with him ; 
Lady Judith bowed and kept her seat. She 
looked a Httle nervous, and her colour kept 
coming and going as it always did when she 
was excited. Rossitur was not excited in the 
least ; indeed, he felt as if he were looking on 
at a performance in which he had no part. 

Mr. Milbanke leaned over the young lady 
and said something in a whisper. A look 
of relief came into her face as she answered 
aloud, "Very well. I think you are right," 
and raising her hand with old - fashioned 
courtesy to his lips, he left the room. 

The door had barely closed behind him 
when Lady Judith rose hurriedly and went 
towards Rossitur, holding out her hand. 
" You will not refuse it to-day ?" she said, 
almost humbly, and he took it. 

She kept it in her own, and looked at 
him with an appealing half-frightened glance. 
She was visibly agitated now ; her breathing 
was rapid, her colour shifted almost every 



A TERRIBLE TEMPTATION. 203 

moment, and the fingers that had closed 
round Rossitur's were as cold as ice. " How 
can I thank you enough for coming ?" she 
said. " I have so much to say to you — will 
you not sit down ?" 

He drew his hand away, and said in such 
a cold, matter-of-fact tone, " With pleasure, 
Lady Judith. I am quite at your service," 
that the expression of her face changed in 
a moment and she gave a little shiver. 

" I hardly know how to begin," she said, 
as she nervously played with the lace trinr- 
ming of her dress. " If we were in the habit 
of meeting every day it would be different ; 
but you see — you understand " 

'' I understand perfecdy. Lady Judith, that 
when your father put a stop to our meetings 
in the wood I had no chance of meeting 
you anywhere. If I were a young gentle- 
man, and belonged to the county set, we 
might have many opportunities of seeing one 
another at dinner and tennis parties and balls, 



204 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

but as I am only a poor organist and the son 
of a farmer, I have had no chance. My own 
feeling now Is that it would have been better 
— for me, at least — if we had never met." 

" Oh, do not say so !" she exclaimed, fixing 
her beautiful eyes upon him. " You know — 
you must know that If — If I could have 
chosen for myself " 

''You would have been sensible enough to 
choose the rich man Instead of the poor one. 
Why do you reproach yourself. Lady Judith? 
I do not reproach you ; and pardon me 
for reminding you, but you said you wanted 
to see me on business." 

. ''You are very much changed since our 
last meeting," she broke in, with a touch of 
petulance In her tone. 

" Our last meeting took place in the porch 
of my father's house," he said, "the day of 
Mr. Milbanke's accident, and I have not 
changed in any respect since that day". 

" I do not call that our last meeting," she 



A TERRIBLE TEMPTATION. 205 

retorted, quickly ; '* but we will not waste time 
arguing. Mr. Milbanke told me of an offer 
he made to you yesterday which you refused. 
1 asked you to come here to-day in order 
to beg of you to reconsider the matter. Mr. 
Milbanke and I are very anxious to do some- 
thing for you." 

At the words, Rossitur clenched the hand 
that rested on the table beside him. That 
she should want to do something for him in 
conjunction with Milbanke was an affront 
almost too great to be borne. But he mas- 
tered his anger and she went on. 

'*I have thought over every possible reason 
you can have for refusing, but 1 cannot find 
one that seems sufficient. Will you not give 
me the pleasure of telling Mr. Milbanke that 
you accept ?" 

"No!" cried Rossitur, almost fiercely. 
" Not if I were starving ! Do you think, 
Lady Judith, that I have no pride, no self- 
respect ? And that you should wish me to- 



2o6 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

live at your husband's gate is past my com- 
prehension ! Is it possible that you cannot 
forego the pleasure — or rather the triumph — 
of seeing every day the man whose life you 
have blighted ? You can have what satisfac- 
tion you like out of my most miserable and 
contemptible folly, but I tell you now, as I 
have told you hundreds of times already — 
and you know best how you responded — 
that if I were to see you constantly I could 
not answer for myself Is not that enough 
to justify my refusal ?" 

She made no answer, but taking up a letter 
that was lying upon an open book beside her, 
she tore off a blank page, and wrote a few 
words upon it rapidly with the pencil that 
hunof from her waist-belt. In a minute or 
two she had finished ; and then, with a colour 
on her cheek and a light in her eye such 
as Milbanke had never seen, she threw the 
paper across to Rossitur. 

He read what she had written, twice ; 



A TERRIBLE TEMPTATION. 207 

looked up quickly, and met her eloquent 
eyes fixed upon him. A third time he read, 
and then, without looking at her, he flung 
the paper on the ground as if it had stung 
him, and rose. " No, Lady Judith," he said, 
'* not even for that ! And I would give my 
life if the inducement you hold out to me 
there," and he pointed to the paper, "had 
never entered your mind, or been put before 
me in words — by — you." His voice broke, 
and he put up his hands before his face to 
hide his emotion. * 

And as he stood thus, with, in his ear, the 
voice of a subtle tempter urging him to give 
way, he heard the rustle of her dress, and 
presently the touch of her hand upon his 
arm. 

" Look at me," she whispered. " You do 
not mean what you say." 

But once more she failed, and how he got 
away from her she never knew ; but he had 
shaken off her detaining hand, and was gone 



208 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

without that look by which she hoped to 
conquer. She made a step or two forwards 
as if to recall him, but with a muttered 
'' Too late !" she stopped short and seemed 
to listen. " Am I safe ?" she said to herself. 
"If he betrays me all is lost." 

Then she turned quickly, picked up the 
paper Rossitur had flung upon the floor, and 
tore it into tiny fragments. But she scat- 
tered them with such uncertain force that 
the greater part fell in a shower on the 
hearth-rug, and there she let them lie un- 
heeded ; it Is even possible that she did not 
see them ; her eyes were blinded with hot, 
angry tears ; a stifled sob broke from her, 
and for a moment or two she covered her 
face, over which a deep, red flush had slowly 
spread, with her hands. In all her selfish, 
prosperous life she had never felt the pang 
of such bitter humiliation before. 

" I wish he was dead !" she said. " With 
all my heart I wish he was dead." 



A TERRIBLE TEMPTATION. 209 

And for himself, the man whom she had 
failed to tempt to his ruin echoed the wish, 
as, with his brain seemingly on fire, and his 
heart cold as death itself within him, he 
left her for ever, and found his way home, 
walking like one in a dream. 



VOL. II. 



CHAPTER XVIII. 

A WEEK OF PAIN. 

During the week that elapsed between the 
departure of Milbanke from the farm and 
the day fixed for the wedding — it was to 
be celebrated with great pomp at the Parish 
Church of Stilllngfort — Alice Rossitur 
watched her brother with great anxiety. He 
went about as usual, but it was plainly to 
be seen that, if not suffering mentally, as 
was too probable, he must be physically ill. 
His movements were languid ; his eyes 
were heavy ; his lips looked parched, he 
scarcely touched food ; and as each night 
came on his head ached so intolerably — he 
confessed to so much being amiss — that he 
either lay on a sofa in his work room, with 



A WEEK OF PAIN. 2 I 1 

his face turned from the light, or went to 
bed. 

But not to sleep. He admitted after- 
wards that during the whole of that wretched 
week he had not slept for more than an hour 
each night, and sometimes not even that 
much. Alice could not get him to speak of 
himself, but It seemed to her as If he were 
quietly making preparations to leave Stll- 
llngfort. 

While Mllbanke was a prisoner at the 
farm with his broken leg, Rossltur made 
a special request to Ellen Balfour, the young 
schoolmistress, to resume her practice on the 
organ ; he gave her a lesson regularly every 
other day, and she played for him twice at 
the evening service. He was with her In the 
organ loft In case she broke down, but Alice 
heard him compliment her on her nerve and 
the vigour of her touch at the close of the 
service. 

The day before the wedding he went to 



2 12 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

the school and asked Ellen to be with him 
during the ceremony. " I mean to play, 
myself," he said, ''if I can keep my fingers 
on the keys, but I am so exhausted with 
sleeplessness and pain that I may break 
down at the last moment. You will not fail 
me, Ellen ?" 

The girl looked up at him wistfully as he 
laid his hand for a moment upon her shoulder. 
Fail him ! She would go to the end of the 
world to serve him if necessary, and it made 
her heart bleed to see how ill and worn he 
looked. But even more alarming than his 
haggard appearance was the dazed expression 
in his eyes. One might imagine that he did 
not actually see the objects at which he 
looked. 

*' I am always glad to help you," she 
answered, '* but I wish we could persuade 
you not to come to the church to-morrow ; 
you ought to take a long rest. Do allow 
me to take all the responsibility, and if 



A WEEK OF PAIN. 213 

I should break down, no one will notice 
it." 

*' No, no ! We must not have any- 
breaking down !" he exclaimed, in sudden 
excitement. ''What may happen when all 
is over no one can tell. Something more 
than a break-down, perhaps, for I cannot 
bear this horrible agony much longer. But 
I must play the ' Wedding March ' for the 
beautiful bride ! I swore to myself that I 
would do it, and I mean to keep my word. 
How magnificent she will look in her white 
satin and orange blossom ! You and I, 
Ellen, can see the ceremony from our high 
perch in the organ loft. I count upon you, 
remember, to be with me there." 

"Choral service, I suppose?" 

" Yes ; full choral service. I was with 
the Vicar yesterday about it, and we had a 
practice last night." 

" You might let me take the service," said 
Ellen, " and you can play the procession up 



2 14 A. GAME OF CHANCE. 

to the altar, and the ' Wedding March ' as 
they go out." 

*' ' The voice that breathed o'er Eden ' — 
they want that for the processional hymn," 
Rossltur said, without answering her request. 
" What voice is it I wonder ? And will It be 
the same for the bridegroom and the bride ? 
She will hear, perhaps, words of her own, 
set to music, and he — but seeing will be 
enough for him ! He ought to hear nothing 
but the bride's ' I will !' I am talking great 
rubbish, am I not, Ellen ? You are looking 
at me out of those grey eyes of yours as if 
you were afraid of me. Grey eyes are softer 
and kinder than dark eyes, child. And more 
pure and truthful; but not half — no, not 
one half as lovely or as dangerous. Tell me, 
Ellen," he asked, presently, " do you see 
writing on the walls ? Everywhere I go I 
see writing, and always the same. There ! 
Look there !" and he pointed to the wall of 
the schoolroom. " I see five words written 



A WEEK OF PAIN. 215 

in pencil in a woman's hand — ' Come to be 
near me.' The farmer's son ought to have 
been proud to receive such an invitation. 
Now Ellen, look ! the letters are turning 
red ! Oh, will nothing blot them out ? No ; 
nothing but blood ! Nothing but blood !" 

It was the beginning of October then, and 
exquisite autumn weather. The woods were 
a mass of rich and varied colour, the sky was 
bright and clear, and the sun shone all day 
long. The village of Stillingfort was gaily 
decorated with triumphal arches and flags ; 
the quaint old church, with its profusion of 
costly white flowers on the altar and in the 
chancel, looked a sanctuary fit to receive a 
young and lovely bride, and the school-girls, 
wearing white, were to scatter flowers before 
the happy pair as they walked from the porch 
to the carriage. The latter, drawn by four 
greys, was likely to attract as much attention 
and admiration as the bride herself. 

The Park was full of guests; Lady Judith's 



2l6 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

two brothers, Lord Warleigh and the Hon. 
Rupert Forster, had arrived, and a host of 
noble relatives on both sides of the house. 
A dozen bridesmaids were to attend the 
bride, and the beautiful and costly presents 
she received were on view at the Park for 
two days before the wedding. Among them 
was a very pretty riding-whip with a quaint 
mounting and monogram in richly - chased 
silver. It was sent anonymously, and many 
were the surmises as to the name of the 
donor. Lady Judith alone suspected Rossi- 
tur, for she recognised the monogram as one 
he had designed for her in the early days of 
their acquaintance, but she did not dare to 
thank him for it ; and there it lay, a con- 
spicuous, beautiful and unique object among 
the other presents, and the words ** giver 
unknown " were on the paper attached to it. 
Lady Judith had seen nothing of him since 
their last meeting ; she told Mr. Milbanke 
that she had used every argument in her 



A WEEK OF PAIN. 217 

power to induce him to accept his offer, but 
without success, and that a man so obstinately 
blind to his own interests had better be left 
alone. And there the matter dropped. 
Milbanke felt that he had done all, and more 
than all, that was required of him by gratitude, 
and he would not subject himself to another 
refusal. 

When Dr. and Mrs. Murray came over 
from Little Centre Bridge the day before the 
wedding, the former was naturally very full of 
the sad death of poor young Erskine, and of 
the news the widow had sent home of his 
faithful servant Pottinger. 

*' The poor fellow's people live in Stilling- 
fort, I believe," the doctor said to his host, 
and Lady Judith was present. " Do you 
know anything about them ? Are they 
tenants of yours ?" 

'' No ; not of mine. I may have heard 
the name, but I do not recall it just now. 
Out of his mind, did you say ? But that had 



2l8 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

nothing to do with John Ersklne's death, I 
suppose." 

'' Oh, no ! It was the effect of a severe 
sunstroke, I beHeve ; but It was the shock of 
seeing his master killed that upset him. His 
wife's people are your tenants, I know — the 
Rosslturs." 

*'And a very cantankerous, troublesome 
fellow old Rossltur Is," said Lord Stilllngfort. 
*' Nothing satisfies him, and I have done 
more for him than for any other tenant on 
the estate." 

Lady Judith moved away soon after the 
first mention of the name, and her father, 
looking after her, said confidentially, ''We 
don't talk about those Rosslturs much here ; 
the young fellow — he Is our organist, you 
know — had the presumption to fancy himself 
in love with Judith, and gave me some 
trouble. But, fortunately, he has the good 
sense to keep quiet now. I must say these 
fellows who are educated above their station 



. A WEEK OF PAIN. 219 

are a great nuisance, especially when they are 
good-looking. Very sad for Erskine to lose 
his son in that way. There is a little boy, is 
there not ? And the widow is coming to 
the Chase, someone said. Has she arrived 
yet ?" 

"Not yet," Dr. Murray answered. "I 
believe she is going to winter abroad." 

'' Oh, indeed ! We were abroad all last 
winter. It did not suit me very well, but My 
Lady liked it. Judith missed her hunting ; 
but it was at Nice she met Milbanke, you 
know." 

Dr. Murray knew, for he had heard it 
many times already. 

" Most generous fellow, Milbanke. He 
has settled ten thousand a year pin-money 
on her, and if he were to die next week she 
would have five more. And when he got 
that bad fall and broke his leg the other 
day, he made his will and left her nearly 
every penny he had in the world. I am very 



220 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

glad he didn't die," his lordship added, " for, 
I believe, if she were independent, she 
would marry that organist fellow in spite of 
•everyone." 

'' What an odd world it is," mused Dr. 
Murray to himself as, his conversation with 
Lord Stillingfort over, he watched the bear- 
ing of the bride and bridegroom elect towards 
one another. Her manner was as perfect to 
him as his to her. '' Quite an ideal couple." 
" So devoted to one another." "A pity he 
is not a few years younger." Those were 
the general comments. 

But in spite of their perfect accord and 
mutual satisfaction on the eve of their 
wedding-day, neither Lady Judith nor Mr. 
Milbanke could forget the young man who 
had so resolutely refused to accept any 
favour at their hands. He was the skeleton 
, at their wedding-feast. 



CHAPTER XIX. 

SAVED. 

The marriage was arranged to take place 
at half-past eleven, as the bride and bride- 
groom were to leave by an early train in 
the afternoon for London eii route for Paris ; 
and soon after ten the streets of the little 
town were filled to overflowing with sight- 
seers who had flocked in from the neighbour- 
ing villages. The tenants on the estate, 
with their wives and daughters, mustered in 
force, as they were to be regaled with a big^ 
dinner in the afternoon in honour of the 
event. 

The high road leading from the church to- 
the Park gates was lined on either side with 
curious spectators, and soon after eleven the 



22 2 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

carriages of the neighbouring gentry, who had 
received Invitations to the ceremonv and to 
the wedding breakfast, began to drive up to 
the church in rapid succession. Ellen Balfour 
was busy long before eleven marshalling her 
little flock of school girls ; they all wore fresh 
white frocks and carried baskets filled with 
flowers. 

Ellen herself looked pretty and modest 
in her soft gown of grey cashmere and 
white bonnet, but she was very pale and 
nervous, and her eyes were constantly 
straying to the path across the church 
meadows along which Charles Rossitur 
would come from the farm. His sister 
arrived in good time, and reported that 
he was coming but that he would not 
allow her to wait for him. 

'' He is worse than usual this morning, I 
am afraid," she said. '* I listened at his door 
several times last night, and I could hear him 
talking to himself, and even laughing, In a 



SAVED. 223 

way that made my blood run cold to hear, for 
I was afraid he was going to cut his throat or 
shoot himself. When he came out to break- 
fast he said he was all right, but he did not 
taste a mouthful and I am sure he will not be 
able to play to-day." 

While she was still talking of him he came 
up, looking so handsome, but oh ! so wofully 
ill, Ellen thought. But he was perfectly 
calm and collected ; in good spirits, a 
stranger would have thought, for he said a 
gay word or two to Ellen as he shook hands'; 
laughed and joked with the little girls, and 
took a white flower from the fullest basket to 
fasten in the button hole of his black velvet 
coat. 

The villagers always said he was affected 
in his dress, and he certainly did not look 
very like the son of a farmer, in his loose 
velvet coat, low turn - down collar and 
carelessly knotted neckerchief of dark crim- 
son silk. Perhaps it was that picturesque 



2 24 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Bohemian costume that first caught Lady 
Judith's fancy when he went to the Park 
to give her lessons on the organ. 

As soon as he and Ellen Balfour had 
mounted to the organ loft, his mood changed. 
*' I do not know how it will be when I feel 
my fingers on the keys," he said, as he 
unlocked and opened the instrument, " but I 
do not think I can play a note. My head 
aches so fearfully that I should just like to 
knock it against the wall yonder and quiet it 
for evermore. There ! That is better," he 
added, presently as he seated himself and 
began to play. " There is nothing like music 
for chasing away or charming the evil 
spirits and the ghosts of the past. I wanted 
to come down here last night to try a 
voluntary that came into my head as I was 
lying awake. It went something like this." 
He began to play, but presently wandered 
off in a feeble, aimless manner and finally 
stopped. '' I cannot do it," he said at 



SAVED. 225 

last. '* The Inspiration went with the 
night." 

"The choristers are coming In," said Ellen, 
who was looking over the curtain that hung 
in front of the loft. *'Do you want the music 
of the hymn ?" 

'' Of the wedding hymn? ' The Voice?' " he 
said. '* Oh no ! I could play it In my sleep. 
My sleep !" he said, dreamily. " I wonder If 
I shall ever sleep again. Yes ; soundly to- 
night, when it is all over and she can never 
tempt me again, I shall sleep." 

The words fell from him slowly, and In a 
half-whisper ; but Ellen heard them only too 
distinctly, and a great terror came over her 
that he was going mad. 

"Were you ever tempted, little Ellen?" he 
asked, presently, looking up with his beautiful, 
pathetic eyes. But there was something more 
than pathos in them that day ; they were full 
of inarticulate pain. ** Have you ever known 
what it was to have the happiness you have 

VOL. II. Q 



2 26 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

dreamed of, and longed for with mad long- 
ing, put temptingly before your eyes, but, 
between you and it, a slough of mud and mire 
you would have to wade through before you 
could grasp it ? Not you, girl ! Temptation 
is a word in your dictionary, not in your life. 
A thousand times a day I call myself an idiot 
and a fool for resisting, and yet the mire and 
dirt would surely have choked me some day. 
But I did not hesitate a moment, Ellen ; 
remember that to my credit by and by. I 
flung it from me and rushed out into dark- 
ness, madness and despair !" 

*' I wish you would let me play and 
you go home and lie down," she said, per- 
suasively. " This dreadful pain is too much 
for you." 

" Only half-an-hour more, Ellen," he an- 
swered, ''and then I shall lie down and rest, 
and sleep too. But I must play the wedding 
march as she goes out of church — a wife ! 
See ; I am all right now. My fingers are quite 



SAVED. 227 

Strong and steady. Let me have a peep at 
all the fine folk," he added, getting up and 
looking over the curtain. "What a lot of 
swells in pretty clothes ! Ellen, what would 
they do if they had to walk through a pool of 
blood down there to their carriages ? Or if 
it dripped down upon them as they passed 

out r 

" Oh, pray do not talk in that wild way!" 
cried Ellen, now seriously alarmed. '' Where 
is Alice.'* I wish she was here." 

'' Never mind Alice ; we do not want her. 
She is not quite like you, Ellen, and I am 
talking nonsense. My head is light for want 
of sleep, and there is the signal for me to 
begin. Tell me what you think of the bride- 
groom, Ellen. He is too old for her, but 
he is very kind and good. Now then." He 
began the hymn *' The voice that breathed 
o'er Eden," and the choir began to sing as 
soon as the bride was inside the church. 

Rossitur seemed calm now, and he asked 



228 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

no more questions. Ellen stood looking over 
the curtain, admiring, girl-like, the brilliant 
throng, and the beautiful group formed by 
the bride and her train of bridesmaids. 

As soon as the ceremony began, Rossltur 
left his seat and joined her ; not a muscle of 
his face moved as he listened to the exhor- 
tation ; but when It came to the bride's turn 
to plight her troth he turned away with a 
gesture Incomprehensible to his companion, 
and seated himself again at the organ. 

*' Come and stand by me with the Prayer 
Book, Ellen," he whispered, " that I may 
know when the ' Amen ' comes In." 

After that he went through his part of 
the service without a mistake ; but, when 
the wedding party went Into the vestry to 
sign the register, he covered his eyes with 
his left hand and sat motionless. Ellen 
stood watching him, and she noticed that 
his right hand was hidden In the inside 
breast pocket of his coat. It was on that 



SAVED. 229 

Spot she kept her eyes ; why, she hardly 
knew, but she fancied he was hiding some- 
thing there. 

Presently she whispered, ''They are coming 
out. Can you play the March ?" 

For one moment he looked at her with a 
puzzled expression as if he did not under- 
stand what she said, then he drew his hand 
from his pocket and began to play the well- 
known Wedding March as it had never been 
played in that church before. It was too fast 
and much too loud, and the reverberating 
chords echoed through the building. Lady 
Judith Milbanke looked up at the curtained 
gallery and wondered if he was alone there. 

With a sudden break in the music the 
March ceased, and soft and low came a few 
bars of " With Verdure Clad." But that 
also broke off abruptly, and the exquisite 
melody " Oh, for the wings of a Dove," 
floated out and thrilled every ear with its 
unexampled sweetness. 



230 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

** What is the organist about ? Is he mad 
this morning ?" said one guest to another 
down below. 

Yes ; what was he about, and was he mad ? 
Entranced with the music she loved, Ellen 
forgot her fears ; but she was recalled to her- 
self by a shock so appalling that to her dying 
day she never forgot it. With the cunning 
of madness — and he was mad, poor fellow, 
that day — Rossitur noticed her preoccupation; 
he continued to hold some chords with his 
left hand, while his right glided again to the 
pocket of his coat. The chords became 
discords, and, with her attention partially 
aroused, Ellen looked at him and at first 
noticed nothing except that he was pulling 
at his necktie as if it were choking him. 

The next moment, with a cry for help 
that rang through the building, she flung 
herself upon him, and with all her strength 
fought with him for the open pen-knife he 
held in his hand. He had already given 



SAVED. 231 

one wild gash to his throat, and if her slender 
fingers, nerved with the force of horror and 
despair, had not closed upon his, he would 
presently have lain dead at her feet. 

At last, with one desperate effort, she 
wrenched the knife away ; flung It high 
above the curtain, and heard it ring as it 
fell into the aisle below. 



CHAPTER XX. 

HOW IT ENDED. 

Baffled in his attempt at self-destruction 
by the courage and determination of Ellen 
Balfour, Rossitur sank to the ground in a 
half-unconscious state. The violence of the 
paroxysm had passed, the terrible pressure 
on the brain being probably relieved by the 
flow of blood from his throat. It was not a 
serious cut, for the poor fellow's hand was 
nerveless, although when Ellen grappled with 
him for the knife, he rallied all his remaining 
strength to resist her. 

The guests — men for the most part — who 
were waiting in the porch for carriages to 
come up, heard the cries for help, and before 
the frightened girl imagined that succour 



HOW IT ENDED. 233 

could reach her, half-a-dozen strange men 
were in the loft. They found her leaning 
exhausted against the organ ; her face was 
deadly white, while blood from her fingers, 
cut in the struggle for the knife, streamed 
over her dress. She had shut her eyes that 
she might not see Rossitur's agonised and 
ghastly face ; but she could not close her 
ears to the moans that now and then broke 
from him. It was evident that he was 
suffering intensely. 

The doctor, quickly summoned, dressed 
the wound, which he declared was superficial 
and not at all likely to prove dangerous, but 
he said that the poor young fellow was in the 
first stage of acute brain fever, and would 
require the greatest possible care if his life 
was to be saved. 

Ellen and his sister both testified to his 
late sufferings from sleeplessness, and the 
former added that his speech and bearing 
throughout the time she was with him in the 



2 34 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

organ loft that morning showed that his mind 
was unhinged. It was useless to declare now 
that he ought to have been kept away from 
the church, and indeed all needless regrets 
upon the subject were merged in the urgent 
question of the moment — how to get him 
home as quietly and with as little delay 
as possible. 

It was done at last with infinite difficulty, 
and, as the speeches of congratulation were 
being made at the wedding breakfast, and 
the bride sat beside her husband, with her 
eyes demurely cast down as she listened to 
her own praises being sung, and to the 
reiteration of Milbanke's good fortune in 
having secured such a charming wife, poor 
Rossitur lay tossing on his bed with delirium 
coming on, and the fever increasing in 
intensity every moment. 

The news of his sudden collapse, and 
the tragedy that had all but taken place in 
the church, spread like wildfire through the 



HOW IT ENDED. 235 

village, and was of course exaggerated by 
every tongue that repeated the story. The 
knife covered with blood, so one declared, 
had fallen on the bride's white gown, and 
left a great stain. She screamed at the 
ill - omened sight, and all but fainted in 
the bridegroom's arms. Another version, 
believed by many, was that the organist 
had fired a shot at the bridal party while 
the ceremony was proceeding, and that 
Lord Warleigh, the best man, would have 
been killed if he had not bent his head 
just in time to avoid the bullet. And a 
second shot would have followed the first if 
Ellen Balfour had not wrenched the pistol 
away. 

Everyone said that everyone knew some- 
thing dreadful would happen before long, 
Charles Rossitur had looked so unlike him- 
self ; and what had happened was a warning 
to young men not to fall in love with women 
who were above them in station. Was it 



236 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

likely that the Earl's only daughter would 
stoop to Farmer Rossitur's son ? 

The guests who had waited to assist in the 
removal of the unfortunate young man to his 
home, brought the news to the Park ; but, as 
it was such a horrible story for the bride to 
hear on her wedding-day, everything possible 
was done to keep it from Lady Judith's ears. 

That something very unusual had taken 
place was, however, so patent to everyone 
that the bride's curiosity was aroused, and 
getting hold of her younger brother she made 
him tell her everything. And he did so in 
the matter-of-fact and unconcerned manner 
peculiar to a lad of about seventeen. 

"Something happened after you left, you 
say ? By Jove ! I should think so, rather ! 
That good-looking chap who plays the organ 
tried to stab himself or something, and he 
would have killed himself outright but for 
some plucky girl who was in the organ loft 
with him. She sang out for help, and seized 



HOW IT ENDED. 237 

the knife and got It from him, and flung It out 
into the body of the church. I beheve it hit 
old Mulberry, the pew opener, on the top of 
his bald head and cracked It like a nut. I'm 
not joking! By Jove, Judy, you do look 
white ! Have some fizz or something. I 
say, won't the mater pitch Into me for telling 
you '^ They wanted to keep It dark, for fear 
you might think It unlucky !" 

''Oh, never mind! I am all right," said 
Lady Judith. " But I wish It had not 
happened on my wedding-day. And they 
took him home, you say ?" 

*' Yes ; and the doctor says he's In for 
brain fever, poor chap. He was off his 
head, you know." 

The bride was silent for a few minutes, 
and busy with the buttons of her glove. 
*' Do you know who the girl was?" she 
said at last. 

** No ; not I. Never thought of asking. 
She is a plucky one, and no mistake." 



238 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

No more was said, and when the happy- 
pair had started, Lord and Lady StilHngfort 
congratulated themselves that Judith knew 
nothing of the catastrophe that had marred 
the splendour of her wedding-day. 

And during the weeks that she was enjoy- 
ing a luxurious honeymoon, with every wish, 
small or great, anticipated by her enamoured 
husband, and money at her command to gratify 
every whim, Rossitur was lying between life 
and death at StilHngfort. 

Those only who watched him night and 
day, and heard his incessant ravings, and his 
wild appeals for help to resist some unknown 
temptation — which was either the delusion of 
a fevered brain, or one to which he had at 
some time been exposed — knew a tithe of his 
suffering. 

Many and many a time did Alice and 
Ellen, who shared the nursing between them, 
wish that death would put an end to his trial 
and theirs. It was so pitiful to see the 



HOW IT ENDED. 239 

Strong young fellow lying there day after 
day, either raving in wild delirium, or with 
his mind wandering and his speech the 
babble of a child. He recognised no one, 
and the only thing that sometimes seemed to 
soothe him was music. 

Ellen used to play a familiar air softly on 
the piano that stood at the far end of the 
large room in which he lay ; but too often he 
took no notice whatsoever, or tried to drown 
the sound with his voice. 

The days were growing short, and the 
trees, those silent witnesses of secret meet- 
ings between the false woman and her 
too credulous lover, were bare, and the late 
flowers in the farm garden were black and 
sere with early frosts, when Rossitur was 
at last pronounced out of danger. The 
change for the better came, as it so often 
does, in a long sleep, and the two women 
who loved him watched eagerly for his 
awakening. 



240 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

And when It came, he was once more in 
his right mind ; the storm of passion and 
despair that had beaten him down, and 
all but taken his life, was over, and he felt 
and spoke like a new man. As he grew 
stronger and better day by day he strove 
to recall his last hours of consciousness ; but 
his memory was treacherous and failed him 
utterly when he tried to remember what had 
happened before he awoke and found himself 
lying on his bed in his own familiar room, 
and so weak In body that he could scarcely 
raise his hand to his head. 

When they told him that It was six weeks 
since he was taken ill he could scarcely be 
made to believe It, and it was only by very 
slow degrees that he was able to piece to- 
gether scenes and events which, when he first 
began to recall them, seemed more like vague 
dreams than actual occurrences. As soon as 
he was out of danger Ellen Balfour gave 
up her share of the watching and nursing, 



HOW IT ENDED. 24 T 

and went back to her work at the school. 
She could not bring herself to wait for his 
recognition, for it would indeed be hard to 
bear should she see him turn from her now ; 
and she was, besides, honestly afraid lest the 
mere sight of her might recall the awful scene 
in the church too suddenly to his recollection, 
and cause a relapse ; so, as soon as he began 
to address those about him by name, she 
never went into his room, although she went 
to the farm every day to inquire after him. . 

If he remembered anything of the struggle 
between himself and her for the knife, he 
never spoke of it, and not once did Ellen's 
name pass his lips ; but his sister noticed 
that he used to watch the door incessantly, 
as if expecting someone to appear who never 
came. 

When he was able to be up and about again 
Christmas was at hand, and the very first 
day he was able to walk as far he went 
straight to the school-house and surprised 

VOL. II. R 



242 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Ellen by walking into her room as she sat 
alone in the gloaming. 

*' Do you take me for a very tall, thin 
ghost ?" he said, as he went forward into 
the circle of the bright firelight. '' I am 
afraid you do, you look so scared. You 
would not come to see me, so I am obliged 
to come and see you ; but I think you are 
rather unkind to neglect your handiwork as 
soon as it is tolerably well patched up and 
on its legs again." 

*' My handiwork !" was all she could 
stammer in reply ; emotion was choking 
her, and to hide her confusion she got up 
and made him take her chair by the fire. 

She stood on the hearth with her eyes 
fixed on the logs that were burning so 
brightly and cheerily with vivid blue and 
yellow flames ; his eyes were fixed on her 
pale, pure face. 

'* Ellen," he said, at last, and stretching 
out his poor, thin hands he took one of hers 



HOW IT ENDED. 243 

between them, *' I want to thank you, my 
brave, true-hearted, little friend, for having 
saved my life. It has taken me a very long 
time to remember what happened on Lady 
Judith's wedding-day, but I have got it all 
plain and clear now, and I owe it to you that 
I did not kill myself like a coward. I can 
but hope that this strong little hand," and he 
raised it to his lips as he spoke, '' has given 
back to the world of workers a safer and 
more sensible man than the man who tri^d 
to play the organ that day. What do you 
say, Ellen ? You have not much hope of 
me, I am afraid, or you would speak," he 
added, as he drew her towards him by the 
hand he still held. 

"It is not that — I always had hope of 
you," she faltered. ''It is because I am so 
glad to see you well again." 

"Yes; well again. Well in mind, thank 
God. And it is not only the madness of the 
fever that has passed — another and a more 



244 A GAME OP^ CHANCE. 

pestilent fever has died out, and the wild 
desire and mad longing of the past two years 
have disappeared with it, and a desire that is 
better and nobler, and more fit for such a man 
as I am, has been born again. Ellen, I am 
ashamed to remember that more than two 
years ago, in this very room, and seated in 
this spot, I gave you to understand, although 
I did not say so in words, that I cared for 
you, not as a brother or as a friend, but as a 
lover ; and yet, from that hour until this, no 
word of love for you has passed my lips. I 
need not tell you how I was drawn away from 
you, or by whom, for you know all ; and in 
your heart perhaps you despise me for a poor 
weak fool, but " 

" Oh ! no — no !" broke from her involun- 
tarily, and pulling her hand from his detaining 
clasp she covered her agitated face and burst 
into convulsive sobs. 

In a moment he was by her side with his 
arm round her. " Ellen — my dearest," he 



HOW IT ENDED. 245 

whispered, *' Do not turn from me. I love 
you — you will always be to me the noblest, 
truest and sweetest woman on earth. If you 
ever cared for me, oh ! care for me now when 
I so sorely need your love. Be my wife, and 
let us go away together out of this hateful 
place. Will you — will you come ?" 

" I will go with you to the end of the 
world !" she answered, as she threw herself 
weeping upon his breast. 



CHAPTER XXI. 

WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS. 

The winter passed very quietly at Little 
Centre Bridge. In consequence of their 
deep mourning the family at the Chase went 
nowhere and received no company. It was 
rather a dreary and monotonous life for a 
young girl like Letty, but she did not feel it 
irksome or wish for any change. She read a 
great deal, and the books she chose were not 
chiefly novels, but standard works she had 
heard Otway speak of when they were first 
acquainted. She also got her friend Dr. 
Murray to recommend her some improving 
literature, while in fiction and poetry she was 
careful to select those writers only whom she 
knew Otway adm.ired and approved. His 



WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS. 247 

literary palate was very fine, and she could 
not do better, she thought, than be guided by 
his taste. It did not matter, or she told her- 
self it did not, that no opportunity would 
probably ever offer itself for the discussion 
with him of the various volumes, grave and 
gay, that went backwards and forwards that 
quiet winter between the Chase and Mudie's. 
Letty satisfied herself by reading books that 
she knew were well known to him. 

Then she and her father took long rides 
and walks together. Sir John was not a 
specially intellectual companion, but still he 
and his daughter had many subjects in 
common, and the subject of his little grand- 
son Jack, was a never-failing source of 
interest and speculation to the old man. 
Occasionally he recurred to the vexed ques- 
tion of the relations between Letty and her 
husband, and declared with great emphasis 
that they ought either to come to an under- 
standing or else have the marriage annulled ; 



248 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

but Letty generally contrived to impress upon 
him that she was quite satisfied to let things 
remain as they were. 

Mrs. John Erskine had had her way, and 
was spending the winter at Sorrento with her 
Own child ; Rossitur the maid, and Rossitur's 
boy. No one knew exactly how the thing 
had been managed and Sir John's strong 
repugnance to the scheme overcome ; but 
the fact was, Mrs. John simply offered 
passive resistance, and to all her father-in- 
law's arguments in favour of her immediate 
return to England replied that she thought it 
was better for her and the child to spend the 
winter in a warm climate. 

A second letter had immediately followed 
her first from Simla ; and in it she announced 
that before an answer to it could be received 
she should be on her way to Europe. A 
letter addressed to her on board the P. and 
O. steamer Cathay, at Suez, would probably 
find her, but it might perhaps be safer to 



WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS. 249 

write to '' Poste Restante, Naples," as she 
meant to go there direct from Brindisi. 

On receipt of this communication, which 
showed that Mrs. John Erskine was by no 
means a 'feckless' creature, unable to manage 
her own affairs, and was certainly not dis- 
posed, as far as her friends at the Chase could 
judge, to let others manage for her, Sir John 
telegraphed at once to Simla, and said she 
was to look for a letter at Suez but not at 
Naples, as he hoped his "dearest Amy" 
would be guided by him, and instead of 
landing at Brindisi come on direct to South- 
ampton or to London, where he and Letty 
would meet her and escort her home. 

And at Suez a long letter met her con- 
veying the same desire expressed at length. 
Sir John was a diffuse letter writer, who 
always gave his reasons m exteJiso, and often 
many times over, for the course he meant to 
take upon himself or to impose upon others ; 
the pros and cons were minutely gone into, 



250 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

and often repeated In another form of words. 
He explained elaborately to his daughter-in- 
law that, in his opinion, she ought to lose no 
more time than was absolutely necessary in 
bringing her orphan boy to the home that 
would one day be his. ''You have a certain 
position to take up in the county, my dear," 
he wrote, " and the sooner it Is taken up the 
better. Indeed, I may say without exaggera- 
tion, that you are being waited for in Stone- 
s/m^e, and a warm and most loving welcome 
will be given to you, not only by me, your 
sister, and your Aunt Louise, but by all 
the Inhabitants, gentle and simple, of Little 
Centre Bridge." 

Then he dilated at large upon the dangers 
of ill-drained Italian towns, and declared that 
it would be altogether against his wishes if 
his grandson spent even a night In Italy. 

" What a tiresome, twaddling, old creature 
he must be," was Mrs. John's comment as 
she read the lengthy epistle aloud to her 



WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS. 25 1 

maid ; it was the least she could do when 
Rossitur helped her so cleverly with her own 
compositions. 

" One would think that Jack was the only 
child in the world, he makes such a fuss 
about him. I think myself he is a very 
ordinary child ; but of course, the heir of all 
the Erskines must be something extraor- 
dinary to the Erskines. If Sir John only 
knew how I detest the idea of going to the 
Chase he would be astonished. Fancy being 
stared at and talked over by all the Little 
Centre Bridgeians !" 

" You might get some amusement out of it 
all for a while, madam," Rossitur answered ; 
it was a matter of indifference to her where 
her mistress spent the winter. '' I have been 
told that the Chase is a very fine place, and 
that everything is done on a liberal scale. 
Sir John's servants always stay with him a 
long time." 

''It is more than his daughter-in-law will 



252 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

do," Mrs. John answered. " I mean to 
amuse myself by and by, and I ought to 
be presented next spring. Poor Captain 
Erskine always meant to have it done " — 
Amy spoke of her appearance at court as she 
might have spoken of a surgical operation 
to remove some physical blemish — " when 
we came home on leave. I think I had better 
telegraph as soon as we get to Malta " — this 
conversation took place on board the Cathay 
— " to say I am not coming to England, and 
that he must write, as I told him before, to 
Poste Restante, Naples. It is very easy, if I 
do not like either Naples or Sorrento, to go 
to England overland ; but I am determined 
to spend the winter in Italy if I can." 

" I hope it will not be too lonely for you, 
madam," Rossitur said, "but you may find 
someone you know at Sorrento." 

Mrs. Erskine hesitated a moment before 
she said, carelessly, " Monsieur de Louvain's 
mother and sister have a villa at Sorrento" 



WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS. 253 

— Rossltur was quite aware of that fact — 
*' and they seem disposed to be friendly," 

*' Indeed, madam ? That is good news. 
Do they know you are coming ?" 

** Oh! dear, yes. I had a letter at Suez to 
say that they have taken an apartment for us 
in such a charming situation, and Monsieur 
de Louvain will meet me at Brindisi. It is 
very good of him." 

*' Very, indeed, madam," and Rossitur bit 
her lip to hide her significant smile. • 

" And now, what do you think, Rossitur ? 
Of course I do not want to make any un- 
necessary mystery, but Sir John is so pre- 
judiced against foreigners and foreign places 
that I think it would be just as well not to 
mention the de Louvains when we write. 
He need not know anything about my 
acquaintances in Sorrento ; and if these 
people mean to be nice and friendly why 
should I not meet them half-way ? What do 
you say ?" 



2 54 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

'* Certainly, madam ; and there Is no 
necessity for you to mention them. I am 
sure I am very glad to know that you are 
going to meet such an old friend as Monsieur 
de Louvain again." 

'* And his mother and sister as well, you 
know. I am looking forward with quite as 
much pleasure to meeting them." 

*' Naturally, madam." 

" How do you think I am looking now, 
Rossltur '^. Do you know, I am afraid I 
am getting stout. There is scarcely any 
difference in our figures now, is there ? I 
used to be always such a thin girl, and you 
were always plump. But you do not think 
I am disfigured at all, do you, Rossltur ?" 

" Not at all, madam. I do not think I 
ever saw you looking better. A little tanned 
by the sea air, but that will soon wear off at 
Sorrento, and Monsieur de Louvain knows 
how fair you are naturally. He many and 
many a time talked of your beautiful com- 



WHEELS WITHIN WTIEELS. 255 

plexlon to me when you were a young lady 
at Calcutta." 

*' Heigh ho!" said Amy, with a sigh. 
"What gay times we had then! Hadn't 
we, Rossitur ? I often think I was foolish 
to marry so young ; but poor dear Captain 
Erskine was so nice-looking " 

'* And better off than any of your admirers, 
madam," put in the maid. 

''And better off than any of them, as you 
say ; and of course I could not tell that 
another person would come in for a fine 
estate just after I married." 

'' Is that so, madam ?" 

''Yes," with another sigh. "But then, if 
my poor dear husband had lived, I should 
have been Lady Erskine some day ; and 
after all, an old English baronetcy is not 
to be despised, is it Rossitur ? And Lady 
Erskine is a pretty title; much prettier than 
plain Mrs. John. I should not in the least 
mind changing ^/la^ if I got a chance. By 



256 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

the way, Rossitur, talking of husbands re- 
minds me, have you had any news lately 
of Pottinger ? We have to think about him 
now, as we are getting near England." 

"He was getting better when last I heard,'' 
Rossitur answered, "and the doctor thought 
that in a few months he would be quite well 
again." 

"Then we need not trouble about him for 
six months, at least, need we ? When we 
get home next year I suppose you will let 
your own people have your little Georgy to 
take care of. I am afraid I cannot ask Sir 
John to take him in at the Chase." 

" Oh ! dear ; no, madam ! But if Pottinger 
recovers 1 suppose he will expect me to go 
and live with him." 

" Oh, but I really cannot part with you 
now, Rossitur ! You know all my little ways 
so well I should be lost without you ! I am 
sure I could not have written all those letters 
to Sir John without your help, you are such 



WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS. 257 

a famous scribe ! No, no ! Pottlnger must 
go back to the regiment and leave you with 
me. I know you will not break your heart 
about him. You see now the folly of 
engaging yourself before you left England. 
I might have come out to India engaged, but 
I would not hear of it. It ties one down so, 
doesn't it, Rossitur.'^" 

" Certainly It does, madam." 

" I wonder what Sir John will say when he 
hears I am not coming home for the wint^. 
We must concoct a very nice letter and 
smooth him down. I do not want him to 
come out to Italy to look after me." 

'* He is too much afraid of the smells," 
said Rossitur. '* But if he talks of it we 
must find some way of putting him off" 

** Yes ; we must indeed. I leave it all 
to you, Rossitur ; you are so clever at 
inventing !" 

And at that compliment to her powers, 
Rossitur laughed and made no reply. 

VOL. IL s 



CHAPTER XXII. 

UNEXPECTED NEWS. 

Thus were all Sir John's plans and wishes 
quietly set aside by the determination of an 
obstinate and decidedly selfish young woman 
to have her own way. He got her telegram 
from Malta and her letter from Brindisi, such 
a sweet, prettily worded, dutiful letter, for 
the most part the work of Rossitur's fer- 
tile brain. Composition was generally an 
arduous task to young Mrs. Erskine, and it 
was never more difficult than immediately 
after her arrival at the Italian port where 
she was met and welcomed not only by her 
old friend Victor de Louvain, but also by 
his sister who had accompanied him from 
Sorrento 



UNEXPECTED NEWS. 259 

But In the letter that reached the Chase 
announcing the arrival of the little party, 
there was no mention made of their kind and 
thoughtful friends. 

Sir John was In a pretty fume when he 
found that he must wait until spring to see 
his son's widow and her boy ; and endless 
were the woes he poured Into the ears of his 
friend, Dr. Murray, on the subject. But the 
Doctor, like a sensible man, contrived to put 
Mrs. John's apparent wilfulness In a reason- 
able light. He said It was not possible to 
expect her to enter fully Into her father-In- 
aw's Impatience to embrace his grandson, 
and to welcome the widow of his lost son. 

" She naturally wishes to spend a few 
months In perfect seclusion, poor thing," the 
good Rector said. *' She shrinks, you may 
rest assured that she shrinks, from the ex- 
citement Inseparable from her home-coming 
under these sadly altered circumstances. It Is 
Just as well for you to humour her, Erskine 



20O A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Just as well. Her heart must be sorely 
bruised and bleeding, poor girl, and nothing 
will help her so much as quiet." 

" But she will be so lonely ; and think of 
the smells," Sir John persisted ; but he felt 
that the ground was being cut from under 
his feet. 

" Oh ! the smells are exaggerated, and, 
believe me, loneliness is just what she is 
pining for, or she would have come home 
at once ; and the time will soon pass. I am 
sure her rooms at the Chase are not ready 
for her yet, although you are in such a hurry; 
or those wonderful nurseries for Master Jack. 
You are not thinking of buying a pony for 
him yet, I suppose ? By-the-way, how old 
is he ?" 

"He was born a week or two before Letty 
was married ; he will be two years old when 
he comes home if she brings him in March. 
I think, if I give in about the winter, I ougnt 
to insist upon March." 



UNEXPECTED NEWS. 26 1 

*•' What about the east winds after Italy ?" 

"Oh — bother Italy! I wish there was no 
such place ! And, you know, we hardly ever 
have the east wind in Stoneshire. Oh, no. 
I must insist upon March, and then we can 
have a nice quiet summer here. Amy will 
not care to see any company, of course, 
except just a few old friends ; and Herbert 
Otway, I know, wants to make her acquain- 
tance." 

" I saw him, by the bye, when we were \p. 
town last week," said the Rector. " He 
wanted us to dine with him at Rutland Gate, 
but we had not time. That is where he took 
the house when he married, I suppose ?" 

*' Yes ; that is the place. I wonder," after 
a pause, " what could be done to reconcile 
those two?" 

'Tam afraid the thing has gone too far 
now," answered the Rector. " I cannot help 
thinking that if he were in love with her still 
he would not go on month after month in 



262 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

this way. It Is unnatural, to say the least of 
it. By and by, you will see he will propose 
to have the marriage annulled. A friend of 
mine whom I met In town, and who knows 
him very well, told me the other day that he 
has lately been left trustee to a very hand- 
some widow who is supposed — mind, I only 
say ' supposed ' — to have jilted him for the 
rich man she afterwards married, and who 
has now left her with a pot of money." 

" Is her name Ogllvey .^" cried Sir John. 

*' Yes ; that is it. Do you know her ?'' 

" I surprised her once in his chambers, and 
he said she was a client ; it was before he 
was married, of course. Now, Murray, not 
a word of this to Letty. Let us wait and 
see what happens." 

During the winter there were letters once 
a fortnight, and sometimes oftener, from the 
Villa Lucia at Sorrento. They were not 
very long letters, nor were they specially 
interesting, for, by her own account, Mrs. 



UNEXPECTED NEWS. 263 

John Erskine led the quietest and most 
uneventful of Hves. The weather was 
charming, but still the climate of Italy did 
not quite come up to its reputation ; and it 
was curious, and rather provoking, too, that 
the winter In England should be so unusually 
mild that year. There were no English 
families at Sorrento that season, with the 
exception of a consumptive clergyman from 
Yorkshire called Beauchamp Jones and his 
wife and two very plain daughters. IV^rs. 
John understood from Rossitur, who had 
picked up a little Italian, and had heard all 
about the family from the laundress, of all 
people in the world, that the Joneses, poor 
people, had left seven other daughters at 
home in the Yorkshire Rectory. 

Little Jacky was growing very fast, his 
dear grandpapa would be glad to hear ; but 
he was not like either his darling father or 
her, and he was slow at speaking ; and so also 
was Rossitur's boy, little Georgy Pottinger. 



264 . A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Mrs. John wondered If being born in India 
had anything to do with It. 

Just after Christmas there was rather a 
long break in the correspondence, and when 
at last a letter came It was full of the tragedy 
that had all but happened at Lady Judith 
Forster's wedding. Alice had written to her 
sister Bella, and told her all about their 
brother's attempt upon his life in the church 
while he was In the act of playing the 
wedding party down the aisle, and of his 
illness, recovery and engagement to Ellen 
Balfour the schoolmistress. 

'• Rossitur Is in despair," Mrs. John con- 
cluded, '*not only at the commonplace ending 
to it all, but also because he Is throwing 
himself away upon such a girl ; and they 
have actually made up their minds to go to 
Australia. He has got the post of organist 
in one of the Melbourne churches." 

'' I think," said Letty, when the letter 
was read, " that Amy might not treat us to 



UNEXPECTED NEWS. 265 

the Stilllngfort news. Does she Imagine 
that we do not know all about Judith's 
marriage ? By-the-way, the Mllbankes were 
at Naples the other day, and they are in 
Rome now." 

The end of February came, and then Mrs. 
Ersklne, of her own accord, fixed the time 
for her arrival in England, and Sir John 
could not contain his joy. Letty and Miss 
Lambton did not anticipate the coming of 
the young widow and her son with si^ch 
lively satisfaction, and although they did 
not speak of their doubts to one another, 
each was convinced in her own mind that 
Mrs. John's presence would have the effect 
of breaking up once for all the quiet home- 
life of the Chase. 

Another letter somewhat quickly followed 
the one wherein Mrs. Ersklne announced 
that on such and such a day she meant to 
start for England ; and it contained news so 
unexpected, and of such Importance to all 



266 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

concerned, that It will be given in the writer's 
own words. 

'* What do you think, dearest Sir John, 
Letty and Aunt Louise ? Can you believe 
it? ROSSITUR HAS LEFT ME!!! I 
can scarcely believe it myself although I am 
on the spot, but she is gone ! Actually 
GONE ! ! ! And what I am to do without 
her I do not know. I never expect to have 
my hair properly dressed again, and as to 
finding any of my things — it is hopeless ! 
We had a disagreement and she said she 
wished to go, and of course I could not ask 
her to stay, and so she went. I consider that 
she has treated me in the most heartless and 
ungrateful manner after vcvj years of kindness, 
and the way I stood by her, I may say fought 
for her, when she nearly got Into a serious 
scrape just before her marriage to that poor 
Pottlnger. And what a bad wife she made 
him — but that Is neither here nor there, is It ^. 
My poor darling never liked her, I must say 



UNEXPECTED NEWS. 267 

that, and if he had had his way she would 
not have been with me very long after I 
married. But he saw how useful she was, so 
he never interfered about her a second time. 
Oh, my darling husband ! If I only had you 
now ! Well ; it all came about in this way. 
I had my Ayah here all the winter, and she 
took the entire charge of the two children — 
mine and Rossitur's — but when she went 
away (I sent her back a fortnight ago) I 
proposed to Rossitur that, as soon as we got 
to England, she should settle her boy with 
her sister at Stillingfort, and then come back 
to me and act as my maid and little Jack's 
nurse. Now, was there anything very un- 
reasonable in that ? She could have done 
the double work perfectly, and I did not like 
to arrive at the Chase with two servants in 
my train. But my lady was highly offended 
at being asked, and said she would attend 
upon me as usual, but that she did not like 
taking care of children and would have noth- 



268 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

ing to do with my darling pet. I got a little 
vexed, perhaps ; but she was really very im- 
pertinent — as she can be when she likes — 
and the upshot is that she went the very next 
day. But where she went to I have not the 
faintest notion. I am afraid she is up to no 
good, for I noticed a curious change in her of 
late. 

'* Now, as soon as I get to London, I am 
going to look out for a nice, steady girl, who 
will act as my maid and Jack's nurse. He 
is getting bigger and older every day, and he 
will soon be past nurses ; besides, I am sure 
dear Letty or Aunt Louise, would not mind 
looking after him sometimes when the girl 
was engaged with me ; or there might be a 
housemaid without much to do— that was 
what I said to Rossitur — and I really do not 
want so very much done for me, as you will 
see. I am very curious to know if that 
woman has gone home. Could you find out 
quietly by and by ? I am sure she has not. 



UNEXPECTED NEWS. 269 

She is very deep. My darling Jack always 
said she was very deep, and I am sure now 
he was right. As soon as you get my tele- 
gram from the Grand Hotel to say I am 
there, come up at once and take me home. 
I feel / shall 7iever be happy until I have seen 
yon alir 

Sir John looked quite radiant as he finished 
the letter. " I must go and tell Murray," he 
said. 

"• What do you think of the latest new^ ?'" 
he exclaimed, as he walked without ceremony 
into Dr. Murray's study. ''Amy writes to 
say that Rossitur is gone. Think of that. 
Rossitur is gone !" 



CHAPTER XXIII. 

MRS. MURRAY PICKS UP A WAIF. 

*' Mrs. Murray is going to London to shop 
to-morrow, and she wants me to go with 
her," Letty announced one afternoon when 
she came in from her drive. It was now 
nearly the end of the first week in March, 
and Sir John was in daily expectation of a 
telegram from his daughter-in-law to say that 
she was in London. 

" The Doctor went to town this morning," 
he said. 

" Yes ; he had to go up on business, and 
he is to meet us to-morrow at Blanchard's at 
two o'clock for luncheon. We expect to get 
back here by the 8-15 train. Aunt Louise, 
have you any commissions ?" 



MRS. MURRAY PICKS UP A WAIF. 27I 

*' Oh yes, dear; I want a few little things 
if it will not bore you. Shall I make a little 
list ? And then If you cannot get what I 
want, never mind. But you are sure to be In 
Bond Street and Regent Street. If you 
could get me a pretty mourning-cap at 
Ludlow's ; or two, If you see any that will 
suit me." 

" All right, auntie. You want to look 
your smartest when Amy com.es ?" 

" I wonder If she would be hurt to see 
a little bit of lavender on my head ? But 
perhaps It Is better to have all black just at 
first. One never knows how people will take 
things." 

" Do you want anything, papa?" 

"You might look In at Jackson and 
Graham's, and ask them when I am to have 
that writing-table I ordered for Amy's room. 
I want It to be here when she comes. And 
you might get some of those Indian rugs 
and mats and things at Liberty's. They will 



272 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

make the place look home-like to the poor 
child." 

'* I notice that people who have been in 
India hate those things," said Letty. '' But 
never mind ; if Amy does not care for them, 
Auntie and I will be very glad to have them, 
so let them come. Is that all you want ?" 

*' Perhaps you will not object to take that 
to spend on fal-lals for yourself," said Sir 
John, as he pulled out a five pound note and 
gave it to Letty. " I'll bet a guinea you are 
hard up." 

" I am not hard up as it happens," answered 
Letty, laughing, "but I am very glad to get 
this, all the same. I do not expect to have 
as many presents now that Amy is coming." 

'' I am astonished we do not hear from 
her," said Sir John, " Poor thing ! I am 
afraid she finds it hard to get on without that 
woman, Rossitur. By the way, did I tell 
you that I asked Murray to find out through 
the curate at Stillingfort if she was at her 



MRS. MURRAY PICKS UP A WAIF. 273 

father's, but nothing has been seen or heard 
of her ?" 

'' I am very glad she Is not coming here," 
said Letty. " I took a great dislike to her ; 
I believe, because poor, dear Jack had no 
faith In her." 

It was a bright, and for March, a warm 
morning, when Mrs. Murray and Letty left 
by an early train for London, and they 
had finished the greater part of their shop- 
ping before two o'clock, the hour fixed for 
luncheon at Blanchard's. They met punc- 
tually, and sat down a merry little trio, 
but Letty's gaiety was suddenly and utterly 
quenched by the unexpected appearance of 
Otway, who came In accompanied by a lady 
In the dress of a widow. 

Dr. Murray, who was speaking to her at 
the moment, saw the bright colour rush Into 
the girl's cheeks, and with a quick movement 
she drew down her veil. Glancing at his 
wife, the Doctor saw that she was attracted 

VOL. II. T 



2 74 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

by some new arrivals, and looking over his 
shoulder, he saw the pair who had just 
seated themselves at a table in the middle 
of the room, and heard Otway asking for 
the menu, 

" Take no notice, please," said Letty, 
quietly. " We can finish our luncheon and 
go out without being recognised." 

But If she had had any enjoyment In her 
luncheon before, she had none now ; she said 
a word at random now and then, and did her 
best to understand what her companions were 
talking about, and as she tried to listen to 
to them, she made a series of most de- 
termined efforts to keep her eyes from 
straying to that other table, and the face of 
the handsome woman who seemed on such 
friendly terms with /nm / She was not 
young ; Letty felt an almost spiteful satis- 
faction In the conviction that she must be at 
least forty ! But then, what young girl was 
ever so dignified In manner — so perfectly 



MRS. MURRAY PICKS UP A WAIF. 275 

self-possessed, and with that unmistakable 
stamp upon her that marks the woman of the 
world. 

'' How well she seems to talk," thought 
poor Letty to herself. She could not but 
note the fact that Otway listened attentively, 
and laughed now and then as if he were well 
amused. 

" I could not entertain him as she does," 
Letty went on with her unspoken comments. 
''The twaddle of a country town must see'm 
very tame to him after that sort of thing ; 
and yet, he said to me once, that to hear me 
calling my chickens to be fed was like the 
sweetest music in his ears. Ah ! he was in 
love then !" 

All this time Otway's back only was 
visible, and he seemed to be enjoying his 
luncheon and the conversation of his com- 
panion. 

" Are you going to speak to him ?" Mrs. 
Murray asked, addressing her husband, as 



276 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

they all rose and were about to leave the 
room. 

*' Oh, no ; I think not, my dear. He will 
probably not see us. But perhaps Letty 
would like " 

** I would rather not, thank you. Much 
rather," was Letty's prompt reply. " Let us 
get out. It is so hot here." 

The Rector led the way ; his wife followed, 
and they both passed close behind Otway 
without being seen by him. Letty came 
last. Her heart began to beat very fast 
as she got near that special table, and found 
the eyes of the handsome widow fixed upon 
her glowing face. How far away the door 
seemed. Should she never reach it ? The 
fates were against it apparently. First she 
tripped against the leg of a chair that 
was a little tilted, and too far out. The 
man who occupied it was in the act of 
drinking, and, feeling the jar, he began 
to choke, and coughed violently while he 



MRS. MURRAY PICKS UP A WAIF. 277 

rose and tried to apologise for being In the 
way. 

Letty, wishing him at Jericho and herself 
in the street, hurried on ; but fearing that his 
chair might be In the way, Otway had risen 
also, and she found herself suddenly face 
to face with him. 

** Are you alone ?" he said, as he held out 
his hand. She was obliged to give him hers 
and he held it while he waited for her 
answer, and held It firmly too. ^ 

"Oh, no!" she said. "I am with the 
Murrays. They went out this moment, and 
they are waiting for me downstairs." 

He dropped her hand at once. " Remem- 
ber me to Sir John and Miss Lambton," he 
said. 

She passed on and he sat down again. 

" Do you mean to say that you were 
speaking to your wife ?" Mrs. Ogilvey said, 
across the table. " She Is scarcely as pretty 
as she was. Is she ?" 



278 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

** I really do not know. I did not notice 
particularly," answered Otway, carelessly, and 
turned the conversation. 

*' Well, dear," said Mrs. Murray, as Letty 
joined her. '' What kept you so long i^" 

" Oh ! I knocked up against a chair, and 
the man who was on It nearly choked himself 
with his claret, and Mr. Otway saw me, and 
asked if I was alone ; that Is all. Who Is 
that lady who Is with him, Dr. Murray, do 
vou know ?" 

" I think her name is Ogilvey, my dear. 
Fine woman, is she not ? She lost her 
husband lately." 

Ogilvey ! Letty remembered the name 
well enough. 

*' I do not admire her," she answered, 
shortly. And then she and Mrs. Murray 
began to discuss their plans for the after- 
noon. 

'' By six o'clock the two ladles reached 
Victoria Station, where Dr. Murray was to 



MRS. MURRAY PICKS UP A WAIF. 279 

meet them In time for the 6-30 train to 
Little Centre Bridge. 

'' We are too soon, of course," said Letty. 
''Come Into the waiting-room and let us try 
and put our parcels together or something 
win be left behind." 

When they went Into the ladles' room they 
found the woman - In - charge and several 
ladles In a high state of excitement. The 
former held In her arms a child of about 
a year and a half or two years old. .It 
was neatly and comfortably dressed, and 
it did not seem In the least put out by 
all the strange faces about It. It held out Its 
little arms now to one and now to another, 
and said ''ma-ma," and then, with the pretty 
coquetry of a baby, It would hide its face on 
the attendant's shoulder, and give a little 
peep out now and then. 

'' Oh, what a sweet little boy !" Mrs. 
Murray exclaimed. She was a baby- 
worshipper, pure and simple, and never 



28o A GAME OF CHANCE. 

as happy as when she had a child in her 
arms. " Look, Letty ! Such a little dar- 
ling ! Whose is he ?" she added, addressing 
the woman. "Yours.'*" 

"Oh, dear no, ma'am. He is nothing to 
me. About two hours ago a lady, at least 
she seemed like a lady — she had a veil on so 
I could not see her face, but I am sure she 
was young — came in with this child in her 
arms, and she carried a good-sized bag, too. 
She put the bag down on the seat over there, 
and then put the child beside it, and after 
talking to it for a bit, and feeding it with 
cake, she says to me, ' I am just going into 
the refreshment room for a sandwich and a 
glass of ale, will you have an eye to this little 
fellow until I come back? He's very good, 

and I shan't be long. Bye-bye " I 

think she said some name, but I did not 
catch it rightly, and off she went. Well, I 
kept an eye on the child, and he did not cry 
or fret, but at the end of a quarter-of-an-hour 



MRS. MURRAY PICKS UP A WAIF. 28 1 

I began to wonder his mother did not come 
back. I wondered more at the end of half- 
an-hour what had become of her, and I just 
took the child in my arms and went to look 
for her. But she was gone, and they told 
me in the refreshment room that no one 
answering to her description had been there 
for a glass of ale, and my belief is that it 
was all a trick to get rid of the child." 

"Oh, what a horrid woman!" broke from 
some of the ladies, and with great emphasis 
from Mrs. Murray. *' Such a sweet little 
boy! How could your mother desert you, 
poor little darling ?" she added, as she kissed 
the little fellow. 

*• But what are you going to do with him ?" 
Letty inquired. " Keep him until you see if 
the woman will come back ?" 

** Oh, she won't come back no more, she 
won't, bless you !" the attendant answered. 
*' She's not the first of the sort I've seen. 
But somehow, I wasn't thinking of a trick, 



282 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

or I'd have dodged her. I've been talking 
to one of the Inspectors, and he's going to 
fetch a policeman to take the poor little chap 
to the workhouse. Seems a pity, doesn't 
it ? That's his bag there, as I looked over. 
There's a tidy lot of his clothes In It, and a 
little comb and brush and a sponge, but no 
name or address or anythlnk." 

'' Oh, It Is dreadful to think of his going to 
the workhouse !" cried Mrs. Murray. '' Let 
me take him home with me." 

"My dear Mary," cried Letty. 

/'Yes, dear; why not? I am sure the 
doctor will let me. I can leave my name 
and address with the station-master, and then 
if the mother comes to look after him she can 
get him back. We will pay her expenses, 
of course. Just let me find my husband ; he 
must be waiting for me outside." 

Dr. Murray, who would probably have 
allowed his wife to bring a young elephant 
home had she wished it, gave his consent 



MRS. MURRAY PICKS UP A WAIF. 283. 

after a few trivial objections ; and the more 
readily as he was sure, If none of the women 
were, that the child's mother would re-appear 
and claim It the following day at the latest. 
The arrangement took trouble and respon- 
sibility off their shoulders, so the officials had 
nothing to say against It, and Mrs. Murray 
had her way and carried off the child In 
triumph. 

And during the journey home she was 
never tired of calling the attention of hgr 
companions to his many perfections. ''And 
I am quite sure he Is not a common child !" 
was her refrain after every remark. 

" I wonder what the people will say when 
they hear you have brought home a baby, 
my dear !" the doctor said, as they were 
steaming into Little Centre Bridge Station. 
*' I am glad Letty can bear witness that he Is 
a waif picked up at Victoria Station. I do 
not want a sensational paragraph to get Into 
the Stone shire Mercttryy 



284 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

" A waif Indeed ! As If waifs had ever 
such well-kept hair, and such dear little 
hands. I am quite sure he Is not a common 
child !" 

Letty, of course, was the first to carry the 
news to the Chase that the Rector's wife had 
gone to London to shop and had brought 
back a baby. She made very merry over 
the incident, but she was in a somewhat 
cynical mood at the close of that eventful 
day. 



CHAPTER XXIV. 

TAKEN AT HIS WORD. 

Not since Letty Erskine had come back to 
her home, a bride but not a wife, had the 
gossips of Little Centre Bridge such a treat. 
It was known at "Crump's" very early the 
following morning, that Mrs. Murray had 
brought back a little boy from London ; and 
Mrs. Sumner, who chanced to drop into the 
shop for a set of knitting pins soon after 
breakfast, heard from Mrs. Crump herself 
that Dr. and Mrs. Murray had some time 
ago advertised for a child to adopt, and out 
of half-a-dozen or more babies submitted 
for their approval they had selected this 
particular boy. 

When Mrs. Verity told her husband about 



2 86 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

it, that excellent man and shrewd lawyer was 
guilty of the extreme vulgarity of putting his 
thumb to the end of his nose, and of giving 
a highly suggestive wink with his left eye. 
'* Very good story, my dear," he said, '' but 
my friend, the doctor, cannot bamboozle me!" 
It was extremely difficult for the Murrays 
to get the true version of the story believed 
in the town, although they had Letty's 
evidence to back it up ; and poor Mrs. 
Murray was quite weary at last of exhibiting 
the child to her visitors, and of reiterating 
her conviction that its mother would soon 
re-appear to claim it. But she did not 
appear, and it was extraordinary how, in the 
short space of four - and - twenty hours, the 
little fellow had contrived to enslave the 
household at the Rectory. Master, mistress 
and servants were all led captive by his 
pretty ways, and his sweet baby face, with 
its big brown eyes, and the little head 
covered with fair, fluffy curls. Mrs. Murray 



TAKEN AT HIS WORD. 287 

was sure If her own baby boy had lived he 
would have been just such a dear, pretty, 
gentle, good-tempered little fellow, and she 
had already extracted a promise from her 
indulgent husband that, if the mother did 
not come back, she might keep the child 
instead of sending him to an orphanage, or 
to be "boarded out" with a farmer's wife in 
the parish. 

Three uneventful days passed after the 
visit to London. Letty was unusually sileat, 
if not sad ; she could not banish the remem- 
brance of that handsome and fascinating 
Mrs. Ogilvey ; but neither could she forget 
the close, warm pressure of Otway's hand, 
although she could not understand why he 
held it so long. It must have been done in . 
a fit of absent-mindedness, for, of course, he 
could not have cared to hold it. 

Sir John during those days of waiting was 
very fidgety and impatient ; giving orders 
and countermanding them in a breath, while 



288 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

Aunt Louise, as usual, sympathised with and 
listened to everyone In turn. 

At last the long-expected news came. 
Mrs. John Ersklne was In London. She 
wrote as follows from the Grand Hotel — 
*' You will be glad to hear, dearest Sir John, 
that I am actually in England with my 
precious boy. We arrived from Paris early 
this morning ; had a most charming crossing. 
I was not the least ill, and the little man 
behaved beautifully. I travelled alone the 
whole way, and I am very proud of myself 
for having got on so well. I was sorry, when 
I found myself actually on my way, with 
no one to help me, that I had not asked you 
to send over a footman to escort me ; or I am 
sure Herbert Otway, who Is a sort of brother- 
in-law of mine, you know — his brother 
married my half-sister — would have fetched 
me. However, here I am all right, and I 
hope you will come up at once and take 
me home. I have nothing to keep me here, 



TAKEN AT HIS WORD. 289 

except to get a maid who will act as Jacky's 
nurse as well. One of the chambermaids 
here Is very kind In looking after him for me. 
I want the address of Letty's ^nodiste, for 
I am really so shabby I am quite ashamed to 
show myself ! You were kind enough to say, 
dearest Sir John, that I might take carte 
blanche for the replenishing of my wardrobe 
when I got to London, so I have already 
ordered a black silk dress for the afternoon, 
at Jay's, elegantly trimmed with crape aad 
jet, and a charming mantle to go with It. 
I desired them to send the bill — forty-five 
pounds — to you. Forty-five for the two. I 
am so much obliged to you, dearest Sir John. 
I enclose In this a bill for a set of beautiful 
jet ornaments I gave myself In Paris with 
your love. I knew you would like me to 
have them ; and as soon as I finish this I am 
going out to get a present from you for your 
little Jacky. He Is so shabby, poor little 
mite, and he must look very smart when 

VOL. II. u 



290 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

he gets to his dear grandpapa's, where every- 
one will look at him. In fact he wants 
everything ; and I must get a couple of 
pretty bonnets for myself, and something very 
sweet in hats to travel In, and for country 
wear ; and I want you to come with me 
to your tailor and help me to order the very 
newest thing in summer ulsters — something 
I can walk about In ; and I must get a pretty 
travelling-cloak at Redfern's. That is the 
best place, is it not ? 

'* This hotel is charming ! I have such a 
pretty sitting-room off my bedroom on the 
first floor. I knew you would not like me to 
go into the coffee-room, and I have arranged 
with the manager for a carriage by the day. 
He is most civil and obliging. He seemed 
to know your name quite well." 

'' I do not think he ever heard It In his 
hfe !" growled Sir John, to whom, It must be 
confessed, his daughter - in - law's letter was 
rather a startling revelation. But he was not 



TAKEN AT HIS WORD. 29 1 

going to admit anything of the kind ; he had 
a suspicion that both Letty and Miss Lamb- 
ton were disposed to criticise Mrs. John's 
proceedings rather freely if he gave them an 
opening ; and, as he had made up his mind 
to uphold her in everything, it was far better 
not to raise any discussion. 

*' Now I like a woman who has the sense 
to take a man at his word. I told her she 
was to get everything she wanted for herself 
and the child, and to have the bills sent to 
me. There are plenty of women who would 
have been shy about ordering things, but I 
am glad Amy is not one of them." 

" She does not seem very shy, I must 
say," remarked Letty. " And I hope she 
is not very extravagant." 

"Extravagant!" cried Sir John. ''I should 
say certainly not. Of course, as my son's 
widow, and the mother of my heir, she is 
entitled to have everything she wants, and 
everything of the very best. She is entitled, 



292 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

I say, and I beg, Letty, that neither you nor 
your aunt will throw out the slightest hint 
about extravagance ! She must not be made 
uncomfortable just as she comes to us, poor 
girl. I am going to get the family diamonds 
out for her. They have been at Coutts' ever 
since your poor dear mother died, Letty. 
My poor boy always said, ' Keep them for 
her until she comes home.' He would not 
let me send them to India." 

" She cannot wear them while she is in 
deep mourning," said Letty. 

*' Never mind, she can have them to play 
with and to look at. And they are worth 
looking at, too. They were given to a Lady 
Erskine in the time of Charles the First as a 
wedding present, and the necklace alone is 
worth over a hundred thousand pounds." 

** I think you had better keep them your- 
self, papa, when they come here. Amy may 
not care for the responsibility." 

'' Oh ! but I have got a fire and burglar- 



TAKEN AT HIS WORD. 293 

proof safe put up in her bedroom," said Sir 
John, *' in which they will be perfectly safe, 
I mean to give her one key and keep the 
other myself And now I must send off a 
telegram to tell her to expect us soon after 
three this afternoon, and she had better 
engage a couple of rooms for us for a night 
or two ; we must stay with her until she has 
all her shopping done." 

'' I think I had better stay here to receive 
you all," said Aunt Louise. '' You will not 
want me in town." 

So it was arranged, and a telegram was 
despatched to announce the arrival of Sir 
John and Letty that same afternoon. 

'' I begin to feel quite nervous !" said 
Letty, as she and her father were on their 
way to the Grand Hotel from Victoria. " I 
wonder if I shall like her ?'' 

*' Of course you will like her. Why not .'*" 
said Sir John. *'Your poor brother's 
widow ?" 



294 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

When the waiter threw open the door of 
Mrs. John's sitting-room and announced "Sir 
John Erskine and Mrs. Herbert Otway," a 
young lady rose slowly from the couch on 
which she was reclining, and came to meet 
them. She wore a perfectly-fitting gown of 
some soft material that fell in long, straight 
folds from the waist and showed her beauti- 
ful full figure to the best advantage ; her 
abundant soft and very fair, it might almost 
be called flaxen hair, lay in fluffy curls on her 
forehead, and made her dark, bright and very 
beautiful eyes look even darker than they 
were. On her head was the daintiest and 
most becoming little apology for a widow's 
cap ; the ruffies at her throat and wrists were 
black, and they made her beautiful, pure com- 
plexion seem almost dazzling by the contrast. 

A pair of small, black earrings, and a 
rosary of black beads, with a large cross 
attached, were her only ornaments, unl'jss a 
pince-nez, which was singularly becoming to 



TAKEN AT HIS WORD. 295 

the form of her very beautiful face, could be 
considered one. 

'' At last, dearest Sir John !" she said, as 
the old man folded her in his arms and 
kissed her warmly. "How I have longed for 
this moment ! I feel now that my many 
troubles are over for evermore !" 

That night Letty wrote to her aunt — 
'' Amy is a little taller and very much stouter 
than I expected. She is very handsome, and 
she walks in a stately manner that is most 
imposing. Papa raves about her, of course, 
and I feel very insignificant, I assure you 1" 



CHAPTER XXV. 

MRS. JOHN ERSKINE COMES HOME. 

A WEEK had gone by before Mrs. John Erskine 
announced that she was ready to leave Lon- 
don ; but if Letty was tired of dancing atten- 
dance upon her, not so Sir John. From the 
moment of their meeting he was her most 
devoted admirer ; and to his regard for her 
as the widow of his only son was added the 
most enthusiastic admiration for her beauty 
and her graceful appearance. The fascina- 
tion was completed when, with her boy in 
her arms, she knelt before him as though to 
ask his blessing on the child ; and even 
Letty, who was for some reason or other 
disposed to be critical, could not deny that 
the graceful mother and sturdy little fellow 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINE COMES HOME. 297 

who clung to her, and hid his face upon her 
shoulder — he was too shy to look at the 
strangers — made a very pretty picture. His 
hair was of flaxen fairness like hers, but 
his eyes were almost black, and Sir John 
declared he was the first black-eyed Ersklne 
he had ever seen. " Our eyes are always 
either blue or brown," he said. 

" But he Is very like his dear father ! Do 
you not think so ?" Mrs. John said. '' Letty, 
you see the likeness, I am sure. Darling 
Jack always said baby had the Ersklne nose." 

'' I think It must be the Gordon nose," 
Letty answered, " for he Is much more like 
you than poor Jack." 

** Does him hear what his Auntie Letty 
says ?" the picturesque young mother cried, 
as she danced the child In her arms. " She 
says you are like your own mummy ! Oh ! 
my angel, you do not care who you are like, 
do you, now you have got home to your dear 
grandpapa ?'' Then, as the little fellow made 



298 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

a clutch at her cap and pulled It off, she 
added, " Is it not strange ? He always does 
that. I hope, dearest Sir John," and she 
suddenly set the child on his feet and knelt 
again by the old man's side, '' I hope you do 
not think I ought to go on wearing my cap ? 
I put it on to-day that you might not be 
shocked, but I never wore it at Sorrento." 

" My dearest Amy, you must do exactly 
as you like," and Sir John put his arm round 
her, and drew her to him fondly. " And I 
really do not know whether I admire you 
more with it or without it." 

The lovely dark eyes, that were neither 
blue nor black, but something between the 
two, which were fixed upon his face, grew soft 
with emotion. '' Oh, Sir John," she said, and 
her lips quivered, " I have not heard such 
sweet words as those since I lost my darling." 
She flung herself on the old man's breast and 
hid her face. " And to think that I have 
come home to you without him," she sobbed. 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINE COMES HOME. 299 

As soon as she had recovered composure, 
Letty, who had taken Httle Jacky upon her 
lap, glanced at her curiously. She looked 
even handsomer than she had done before 
her little outburst of sorrow ; there was a 
slight flush on her cheeks, and her pretty 
hair was a little ruffled ; but the flow of 
tears, if they had flowed, had not reddened 
either her eyes or her nose, and Letty was 
angry with herself for the suspicion that the 
display of emotion was less genuine than, it 
seemed. 

But Sir John's captivation was complete, 
and the first moment he was alone with his 
daughter, his admiration broke Into words. 
He had expected to see a pretty woman, 
but she was dignified and graceful as well ; 
indeed, he had rarely, he might say never, 
seen a woman who walked so gracefully 
across a room as Amy did, and her appear- 
ance In the street was really most striking. 
He was not at all surprised to see the way 



300 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

men turned about to look at her. Certainly 
his poor, dear boy had shown great dis- 
crimination, both as regarded appearance 
and manner, when he chose Amy for his wife. 
The week she spent in town was not 
an agreeable one to Letty. Her father was 
entirely taken up with Mrs. John, and, 
whether by accident or design, Mrs. John 
made a point of never consulting her sister- 
in-law in any way. She made her plans ; 
told Sir John what she wanted to do ; he 
always agreed without comment or objection, 
and nothing was left for Letty but just to 
make a third in the carriage, and to sit in 
it patiently for hours, while Sir John, always 
with his cheque-book in his pocket, attended 
upon his handsome daughter-in-law, going 
with her hither and thither and paying her 
bills without a murmur. It is quite certain 
that by the time she graciously announced 
that she had done all her business, he was the 
poorer by at least three hundred pounds ; 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINE COMES HOME. 3OI 

and over and above that sum, there was 
the by no means moderate hotel bill. 

But he was one of the most generous of 

men, and he paid everything without a 

murmur ; and although he was devoted ta 

Amy, he found time to pay sundry visits 

to his lawyers which resulted In an addition 

of .^500 per annum to the ^i,ooo which was 

already settled by post - nuptial settlement 

upon his son's widow. But when telling her 

what he had done for her, Sir John v^as 

sensible enough to Inform her also that, as 

she would now make her home with him 

at the Chase, all her personal expenses and 

those of the child, were to be provided for 

out of her very ample jointure. In reply she 

bestowed upon him one of her emotional 

caresses ; assured him that he was the 

dearest and most thoughtful of men, and 

that she had no doubt she could make fifteen 

hundred a year suffice for herself and little 

Jacky for the present. 



302 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

She was an Inveterate talker ; but to 
Letty always be it remembered, the only 
critic before whom she had as yet appeared, 
it seemed that in the stream of words there 
was but little worthy of note. When she 
talked about her winter abroad she had 
nothing to say of the places she had visited 
or the people she had met; everything turned 
on herself; the impression she had made, 
not the impression she received. 

It was the same thing in London. The 
shops she praised and patronised were those 
in which her orders were received with what 
she considered becoming deference, and if the 
waiters and chambermaids at the hotel did 
not fly to execute her orders she would 
threaten to complain to the manager. One 
afternoon Letty was not in the sitting-room 
with her bonnet on when the carriage was 
announced, so Mrs. John carried off her 
father-in-law, and would not wait even five 
minutes. Letty, rather relieved than vexed 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINE COMES HOME. 303 

to escape the dull round of shopping, 
chartered a hansom, and went off alone to 
spend the afternoon with some friends of her 
own, a proceeding with which Mrs. John 
professed to be much scandalised ; and she 
even began a little lecture on the subject, but 
Letty cut it short with perfect good humour. 

*' As long as papa sees no harm in what 
I did, Amy," she said, '' I do not think 
you need trouble yourself." But from that 
moment the glove, as it were, was thrown 
down, and Letty knew that any real affection 
between her and her sister - in - law was 
impossible. 

And now at last the big new travelling 
boxes are packed ; Sir John has signed the 
last cheque ; the smart servant who is to act 
as maid to Mrs. John, and nurse to little 
Jacky, is engaged, and Mrs. John herself, 
dressed in the smartest and most effective 
travelling-cloak that could by any possibility 
be designed for a young widow, and on her 



304 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

head a neat untrimmed black felt hat, leans 
back, looking remarkably handsome and 
placid. In the first - class carnage that is 
bearing her to her future home. 

Opposite to her Is Sir John, proud as a 
peacock, and full of admiration for the lovely 
young woman who does so much credit to 
his dead son's taste ; and in the corner at the 
other end of the carriage Is Letty, who is 
trying to persuade herself that this fascinating 
sister-in-law is not taking more than a fair 
share of Sir John's love and attention, and 
that she is not just a little neglected. And 
feeling also that a somewhat changed life 
may be In store for her In her old home, she 
wishes that, without the sacrifice of her pride, 
she could make some overture to her husband. 

" I am not at all unhappy," she said to 
herself, as London, where he lived was left 
farther and farther behind, "but I wish, oh, 
how I wish " 

'' Here we are," cried Sir John. '' Now, 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINE COMES HOME. 305 

Amy, my love, let me collect your things. 
Where is the dressing-bag and your writing- 
case ? Letty, just pull that 'hold all' out of 
the netting over your head like a good girl. 
That's right. Now then." He bounced out 
on the platform and gave his hand to Amy, 
and then to the nurse who had the child in 
her arms. Letty stepped out by herself; 
delivered the ''hold all," which contained 
Amy's wraps and umbrellas, to a porter, and 
then walked after Sir John, who was stepping 
along radiant and happy, and looking an inch 
taller than usual, with his beautiful daughter- 
in-law upon his arm. 

The open barouche with the dappled greys 
was in readiness, and Sir John's private 
omnibus stood at a little distance waiting 
for the luggage. Mrs. John stepped into the 
carriage ; motioned to the maid to follow with 
the child, and placed them beside herself on 
the front seat. Sir John and Letty sat with 
their backs to the horses. 

VOL. II. X 



306 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

And In that order they dashed through 
the High Street of Little Centre Bridge. 
They were seen by the Rector as he was 
turning in at his own gate, and by several 
leading ladies of the town who happened 
to be in Crump's shop ; they all ran to 
the door the moment Mrs. Sumner, who 
was acting as scout, said, '' Here they 
are !" And Mrs. John, leaning back in the 
carriage ; saw them all, and smiled, being 
quite satisfied that she must make a good 
impression on those gaping strangers ! Sir 
John sat bolt upright ; very much excited, 
and very proud of the pretty woman with 
the soft fair hair and the lovely dark eyes. 

'* I wonder what they think of her?" he 
said to himself, as he waved his hand to the 
Rector, and took off his hat to the ladies. 

The carriage turned in at the big gates, 
and bowled up the drive at a smart pace ; 
Miss Lambton saw it coming and shed a 
few tender tears at the thought of the young 



MRS. JOHN ERSKINE COMES HOME. 307 

husband In his far-away grave, even as she 
prepared to meet the widow with a smile ; 
and before half-an-hour had gone by, it was 
known throughout the length and breadth 
of the town that Mrs. John Ersklne had 
come home at last. 



CHAPTER XXVI. 

MRS. JOHN GETS INTO RAPTURES. 

The day of Mrs. John Erskine's long looked 
for arrival was not very agreeably spent by 
the inmates of the Chase, and yet it was 
impossible for anyone, except a most captious 
critic, to find fault with her. Miss Lambton 
and Letty could not be captious critics, and 
even when they were alone together they 
carefully avoided comparing notes about her ; 
indeed, so marked was the avoidance of the 
subject that it could not be put down to 
accident. 

And it was not that there was any want of 
sweetness and graciousness, and an apparent 
desire to be well pleased with everything, in 
the new comer ; but with the sweetness and 



MRS. JOHN GETS INTO RAPTURES. 309 

graclousness and the desire to be pleased, 
there was '' a something " — that was how 
Letty put it to herself; while Miss Lambton, 
who was never very severe upon anyone, 
mentally compared her nephew's beautiful 
widow to a cat with her paws sheathed. 
Sir John, who saw no flaws in his new toy, 
took her himself, in the pride of his heart, to 
see the rooms he had prepared for her, as 
well as the nurseries for his grandson ; Miss 
Lambton and Letty went also, and formed, 
as it were, the tail of the little procession. 

Mrs. John fell at once into raptures. "It 
was so kind of you, dearest Sir John, to take 
so much trouble ; everything is charming. 
I am delighted with it all ; but if I had only 
known that you were going to give me such 
a dear little suite all to myself — it is so nice 
to have it — I think I should have said, * Do 
not furnish until I come,' as then I could 
have had a voice — only a voice, you know ; 
my darling husband always allowed me to 



3IO A GAME OF CHANCE. 

have a voice — in the arrangement. For 
instance, I had set my heart upon a dado, 
and they have not put one. I had a sweet 
dado at Sorrento ! Really I got quite attached 
to it. Of course, this paper is quite lovely, 
and it doesn't matter about the dado ; not in 
the very least ; but as it was being done in 

the new, you know ah, yes ! those pretty 

Indian things! As you say, they are very 
handsome and rich-looking, and I would not 
be without them for the world, but every day 
at Sorrento I used to say, ' What a treat not 
to see anything Indian.' You can under- 
stand that one gets just a little tired of them 
— can't you. Sir John T 

*'Just what I said when papa ordered 
them," whispered Letty to her aunt. 

*' My dear child," said Sir John, " you 
must turn them all out, and get something 
you like better. I want to make you feel at 
home, don't you see ? You must say what 
you would like instead of all these rugs and 



MRS. JOHN GETS INTO RAPTURES. 3II 

things, and there is no reason why we should 
not have a dado." 

" Oh, dear no ! Pray do not think of it. 
A dado with that paper would never do ! I 
must be satisfied, and I really don't mind 
about the Indian things ; only, you can fancy 
that, just at present, they bring back past 
happy days too vividly. But I shall get used 

to them, and to everything. The room 

is really veiy pretty ; a shade heavy-looking 
perhaps, but that may be only because e\4ery- 
thing was so light and bright at Sorrento. 
And this is my bedroom. Very pretty ! veiy 
pretty indeed. I am charmed. But why, 
dearest Sir John, did you not just write and 
say, ' Amy, which do you like best, pink or 
blue '^. ' I have quite a morbid and ridiculous 
dislike to pink. I think I must ask to have 
everything blue." 

*' Of course, my dear girl. Of course ; 
anything you like. I wish I had thought of 
asking you ; but someone said — Letty, I 



312 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

think — that you would be sure to Hke 
pink. 

'' It was very sweet of her to decide for 
me," and Mrs. John gave Letty a smile. 
** And nothing can be prettier than pink. 
Everything was blue at Sorrento. The sky 
and the sea, and my bedroom furniture. 
Quite eji suite, as that horrid creature, Rossi- 
tur, used to say. She was very proud of the 
little bits of French and Italian she had 
picked up. And now for the nurseries. I 
am rather sorry they open out of my room, 
do you know ; but, of course, I can lock my- 
self in. I had the nurseries at Sorrento as 
far away from my bedroom as possible. 
Morning sleep is essential to me, and I am 
afraid I must ask for a double door here to 
shut out Master Jacky's noise. I always had 
a delicious morning sleep at Sorrento. A 
double door will not be very troublesome, 
will it, dear Sir John ?" 

'* Troublesome ! Not at all ! And what if 



MRS. JOHN GETS INTO RAPTURES. 3 1 



J^ J 



it were ? You must have what you Hke. 
This is the night nursery," opening a door. 
**Any improvement you can suggest here ?" 

" No, this seems all right. There is only 
one thing that I must mention. My precious 
child must have his head to the north, and 
with the cot that way it will be to the south. 
And I am afraid I must ask you to have my 
bed turned too ; I like to feel that I have 
got the magnetic current all right. I always 
slept with my head to the north at Sorrenio ; 
and it makes the greatest difference in my 
dreams. You have all got your heads to the 
north, I hope ?" 

'* I never know whether I am north, south, 
€ast, or west," cried Sir John. '' But you 
must have what you like, my dear." 

They were back in Mrs. John's bedroom 
by that time. '' Let's see — which is the 
north ?" he added, turning round and round. 
'* I'm hanged if I know." 

With some difficulty the north was found ; 



314 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

but the desired aspect proved a very incon- 
venient position for the bed, and It was 
finally arranged that It should stand In the 
middle of the room according to the Indian 
fashion. 

" How I shall miss my cosy little nest at 
Sorrento," was the last thing Letty heard as 
they all went down stairs again. 

Aunt Louise had taken great pains In the 
ordering of Mrs. John's first dinner at the 
Chase, and the cook had taken great pains 
in the dressing of It ; but, somehow, it failed 
to hit the lady's fancy. She could not touch 
thin soup, and '' salmon cutlets always made 
her 111 ;" but although she had some objection 
to make to every dish, she contrived to make 
a very hearty meal. 

In the drawing - room afterwards she 
stretched herself on a couch, saying that 
she always lay down for half-an-hour after 
dinner at Sorrento ; but she did not go to 
sleep as Miss Lambton fondly hoped she 



MRS. JOHN GETS INTO RAPTURES. 315 

would do ; she talked incessantly, and the 
first subject she started was the estrange- 
ment between Herbert Otway and Letty. 

" I really must try what I can do," she 
said. "Has anyone tried seriously to bring 
you together ?" 

" I do not wish to discuss the matter. Amy, 
if you please," Letty rejoined. " No one 
talks of it here, and I do not see why you 
should begin." 

" But I mean to take it up very seriously,, 
and as a matter of duty," said Mrs. John. 
" I am quite sure it only requires a little 
judicious management ; and that it is not 
likely to get from anyone but myself. I do 
hope he will not take it into his head to fall 
in love with me. It would be very awkward, 
and I have the oddest fancy that he will, you 
know. There was such a funny little man at 
Sorrento who was quite wild about me. He 
used to leave flowers at the villa. Was it 
not romantic ^. I am not sure that he did not 



3l6 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

go to Vico and drown himself. A man did 
commit suicide there one day." 

*' We must not let anything so dreadful 
happen to Mr. Otway," said Letty, com- 
posedly ; but she felt far from tranquil 
inwardly. '' Rather than run such a risk for 
him, I should be tempted to come to the 
rescue myself!" 

*' Oh ! can anyone tell me if Walter Dun- 
combe has come to the Hermitage ?" Mrs. 
John changed the subject quickly. '* You 
know he was in Jack's regiment. He got 
the property, we heard, on the death of his 
uncle ; but have you seen anything of him ?" 

'' We have not seen him," Letty 
answered. " I know papa called when he 
came home, and he left a card, but he has 
been away all the winter." 

'' He is expected home this week," said 
Miss Lambton. " So Dr. Murray told me 
yesterday." 

'' I must ask dear Sir John to call again ; 



MRS. JOHN GETS INTO RAPTURES. 317 

not that he was a very intimate friend — I had 
many more intimate in India — but still, it 
would be pleasant to see one of the regi- 
ment again." 

** Jack did not like him, I think, did he ?'' 
asked Letty. 

^* Well, he did, and he didn't," Mrs. John 
answered. " He did not like the way he 
made love to Rossitur ; but I cannot help 
thinking that, if my poor darling had not 
interfered, Walter Duncombe would have 
married her. She got herself talked about a 
little, and her marriage with Pottlnger was 
all but broken off; then Jack said he would 
not have any playing of fast and loose, and 
made her marry. I do not think she ever 
forgave him, for of course, she wanted to 
marry the gentleman. I wonder what has 
become of her ? I cannot help thinking that 
she must have seen Walter Duncombe, or 
heard of him, in Italy, and that she will turn 
up in this neighbourhood before long. I 



3l8 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

always said he was fond of her, and she used 
to get great influence over people." 

" Have you a photograph of her?" Letty 
asked. 

'' No ; but she is really not at all unlike 
me," and Mrs. John laughed affectedly. "It 
used to make poor dear Jack so savage when 
anyone said it ; but if you dressed her up in 
my clothes you would take her for me. 
Horrid creature ! I have lost all interest in 
her, she treated me so badly ; but I should 
like to know where she is. You mentioned 
someone called Murray just now, Aunt 
Louise. Is he your family doctor?" 

*' Oh, no ! He is our Rector. A Doctor 
of Divinity, and one of our greatest friends. 
Mrs. Murray is sure to be here to-morrow to 
call upon you. Has Letty told you about 
the child she found and brought home ?" 

''That Mrs. Murray found? What an odd 
thing to find a child. What sort of child ?" 

" A dear little boy of about two years 



MRS. JOHN GETS INTO RAPTURES. 319 

old. His mother deserted him at Victoria 

Station, and what is the matter, dear ? 

Are you not comfortable ?" 

*' Quite, thanks, auntie dear. Only there 
is a dreadful pin pricking me, and it made 
me start. Go on, please. He was found at 
Victoria Station by Mrs. Murray, did you 
say : 

*' Yes ; she found him in the waiting-room, 
and they were going to send the poor little 
mite to the workhouse, when Mary, that^is 
Mrs. Murray, said she would take him home ; 
and so she did." 

'' And the mother has never come forward 
to claim him," Letty added. 

''And Mrs. Murray has got him now? 
How very good of her to take in a stray 
child. Letty, my love, I must ask you to 
look for this wretched pin. It has put me 
into a fever. I am afraid my new maid is 
not very expert." 

Letty began to search among Mrs. John's 



320 A GAME OF CHANCE. 

frills and laces, and presently found the 
offending pin. 

''Thanks so much, dear." She lay silent 
and still for about five minutes after that ; 
then she suddenly raised herself to a sitting 
posture, and said, as she arranged the curls 
on her forehead, " Do you know, I cannot 
help thinking that the unnatural mother was 
Rossitur?" she said, "and that your friend has 
brought home little Georgy Pottinger ! " 

*' But you will recognise him," cried Letty 
and her aunt in a breath. 

'*Oh, dear no; I scarcely ever saw the 
child — not even at Sorrento," answered Mrs. 
John, as she threw herself back on the couch 
again. 



END OF SECOND VOLUME. 



TILLOTSON AND SON, PRINTKKS, BOLTON,